Dead Man (1995)
By: Rip on December 5, 2011  | 
Madman | Region B | 1.85:1, 1080p | English LPCM 2.0 | 121 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover, Lance Henrikson, John Hurt, Iggy Pop
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Country: USA
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In maverick director Jim Jarmusch's blackly comic, existential western Dead Man, Johnny Depp plays mild-mannered Cleveland accountant, William Blake, who embarks on a train trip westward to the dystopian town of Machine to take on a new job. Upon his arrival, he discovers Machine to be a dirty, violent place and immediately reports to the Dickinson Steel Works where he expects to be employed. Once there, he is informed by the office manager (John Hurt) that the job no longer exists. Having spent all his money getting there, Blake is outraged and confronts Dickinson (the legendary Robert Mitchum in his final big screen performance), the owner of the mill. Brandishing a shotgun with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, the fearsome Dickinson advises Blake to leave. Somewhat lost as to his next move, Blake befriends Thel (Mili Avital), whose lover (Gabriel Byrne) bursts in and shoots her after catching Blake and the hapless flower girl in bed together. Blake is also shot, but shoots back, killing the boyfriend, then leaps from the window and flees. We then discover that the dead man is Dickinson's son, and he dispatches three gunmen to track down Blake and kill him. And most importantly, retrieve Dickinson's prized horse that Blake has stolen in his getaway. Now a wanted man with a bullet in his chest, Blake's scramble across the wilderness is one long death scene, avoiding one meeting with mortality before encountering another. When he awakes in the forest the next morning, he finds his wound being tended by a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer), who explains how he was raised by white men and educated in England. In a series of wonderfully droll comic moments, we come to realize that Blake doesn't quite grasp the coincidence of his name, which is constantly pointed out to him by Nobody, who is familiar with the works of William Blake the poet. More than just minor confusion though, Dead Man presents Depp's William Blake as an ignorant everyman, unaware of his namesake just as Nobody is unaware that this Blake is not the same person as that Blake. Both outcasts from their respective cultures, the bond between Blake and Nobody grows as they undertake a mystical odyssey in search of Blake's ultimate destiny, with the bounty hunters forever gaining on them.

The films of Jim Jarmusch are generally an acquired taste, but for many, the man can do no wrong and he's certainly won his fair share of accolades and awards. Overall however, Dead Man might well be the director's finest achievement. This is Jarmusch's only period piece and it stands out from his other work in many ways, though perhaps containing some thematic echoes of his Down By Law and Mystery Train, both of which are fine films themselves.

For some, Dead Man is too slow and impenetrable, with little emotional feeling and nothing to say. For others, it's a mesmerizing experience with Jarmusch's subtle narrative seeming to suggest that whilst the American West was indeed vital, it was also a place of death rather than growth. Jarmusch's West is a world of danger and decay, rather than promise and freedom, a spiritual and metaphorical take on the advent of the 'machine' age and the damage that ensues. In capturing this bleak, unforgiving world, Jarmusch is aided immensely by Robby Mueller's superb high contrast black-and-white photography and Neil Young's dischordant, hypnotic guitar score. Whilst Depp is customarily fine as the quiet, reserved Blake who unwittingly becomes a killer and Gary Farmer particularly memorable as Nobody, the film is populated by a terrific cast, some of whom are only in short, but memorable scenes, such as the aformentioned Robert Mitchum, John Hurt and Gabriel Byrne. There's also Crispin Glover, Alfred Molina, Michael Wincott and rock legend Iggy Pop. But it's a scary Lance Henriksen and hilarious Billy Bob Thornton who really steal the show. It should also be noted that Dead Man is not your standard Western, so for those expecting a traditional gun-fighting cowboy affair, it might be wise to stay away from this one.
Madman's Blu-ray release of Dead Man is framed at 1.85:1 and looks absolutely marvellous, especially in highlighting the exquisite monochrome cinematography of Robby Mueller. Having seen the SD DVD many times, (which itself looks terrific), the difference here is quite stunning and it was almost like seeing the film for the first time. The picture is very clean, with great detail and devoid of any digital nasties, at least as far as these eyes could see. Good stuff.
Dead Man has never been given a 5.1 surround option in any incarnation and it's probably not all that warranted. It's the same deal here, though this time, being a HD release, we get a LPCM 2.0 surround track and it's a beauty. Dialogue clarity is excellent and Neil Young's haunting score really shines.
Extra Features
What we get here is identical to all previous SD DVD releases the world over. And that is thirteen minutes of out-takes and deleted scenes, the Neil Young music video for the Dead Man theme, the film's trailer and finally, some trailers for other great Madman releases.
The Verdict
Many have dismissed Dead Man as pretentious and it's certainly true that the existential Western is hardly anything new. But this is a Jim Jarmusch film, replete with the director's trademark quiet irony, droll humour and affinity for the oddball. And after all, in what other movie can you see Iggy Pop in a dress and bonnet?
Movie Score
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