on September 2, 2000
How unfair is it that Tim Keogh of the Amazon.Com organization gets to lead off the list of reviews for this movie by stating - "This disappointment from Jim Jarmusch stars Johnny Depp in a mystery Western about a 19th-century accountant named William Blake, who spends his last coin getting to a hellish mud town in Texas and ends up penniless and doom struck in the wilderness." I don't know if Tim was busy stuffing his face with popcorn but he makes three erroneous statements in this first line of his totally off-base review.
1) This movie is not a mystery! 2) Johnny Depp spends his last coin buying whiskey. 3) The "hellish mud town" of Machine is on the West Coast - not Texas. (After all, it would take a while to ride by horseback from Texas to British Columbia where the Coastal Indian Tribes were located).
You may be asking yourself why I take issue with such mundane details? The answer is obvious - to prove the point that Tim Keogh wasn't even watching this movie, and therefore, has no right to review it. Simply put, Dead Man is a cinematic masterpiece! Jim Jarmusch has made a number of strong movies, but Dead Man surpasses the others as a brilliant work of art.
You can see by reading the other reviews that support for Dead Man borders on fanatical. There are few movies that I have watched repeatedly but I continue to see this one over and over again. Everything about the film is different from the conventions of Hollywood mass consumption "fast-film". The story unfolds in a slow and methodical manner and requires much attention on the part of the viewer. If you invest in it, Dead Man will repay you many times over.
If you liked Forrest Gump and The Sixth Sense then you can go see another mindless mainstream movie with Tim Keogh and the majority of the ignorant American public. If you need more than that . . . buy Dead Man. I'll bet you watch it more than once!
on November 23, 2010
If you aren't an accolylte of Jim Jarmusch (the director of Dead Man), you may find the pace of this film slow and tedious. On the other hand, if you appreciate the offerings of French New Wave film makers from the 60's and the gritty drama's of the 70's output from BBS (Five Easy Pieces, King of Marvin Gardens), you'll find it easy to dial into this surreal western setpiece.
From the outset, we are thrown headfirst into the reality of William Blake (Johnny Depp), on his way from Cleveland to the town of Machine on a steam train, where a job as an accountant in a mill called Dickinson Metal Works awaits him. En route, he encounters a few uncomfortable situations - most notably when an un-named coal shoveller from the locomotive (Crispin Glover) sits across from him and tests his wherewithal. A memorable line comes when suddenly the passengers leap from their seats, raise their shotguns and start firing out the window, and Glover's character spouts "They're shooting buffalo, government says they shot a million of them last year alone."
Upon his arrival in Machine, Blake finds that the job he travelled for has been filled, and the mill owner (Robert Mitchum) laughs him out of the office. From there, Blake finds misfortune after misfortune, while encountering a colorful pallete of characters on the way to a bitter conclusion.
The above provides a synopsis - but it hardly evokes the stellar storytelling and visual complexity conveyed by Jarmusch and longtime cinematographer Robby Muller (whose previous work includes films with Wim Wenders and Lars Von Trier). This is an indie tour de force on the most under the radar level. The supporting cast alone fills tiny parts with some heavyweight talent: Gary Farmer, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thornton, Crispin Glover, Jared Harris, Iggy Pop, John Hurt, Michael Wincott, Alfred Molina, Lance Hendrickson... enough already! The script is ripe for quotes, and the soundtrack is 100% Neil Young on an electric guitar, strumming along to the scenes - perfectly meshed.
It's a shame Amazon has used Tom Keogh's review to give potential purchasers such a negative first impression of such a memorable bit of film making prowess. Jarmusch doesn't make films to rake in cash, he's an artist making films to fulfill an artistic mandate. Imagine a filmed version of Cormack McCarthy's novel "Blood Meridian" and you'll find it easier to grasp the gritty post-modern Western scope that Jarmusch has embraced. As far as his film's themes and methodologies, they resonate from piece to piece - Dead Man fills in perfectly between Night on Earth and Ghost Dog. To jump in head first to Dead Man, it will definitely leave you wondering "what the....?", but upon viewing his back and forward catalogue, you'll get the picture.
on December 4, 2003
I never saw this on the big screen, but after watching the DVD I think it would have been great to hear Neil Young's music coming from all directions and see the brilliant photography on the big screen.
Dead Man, no doubt, will be loathed by some as being meandering and slow. However, I'm one who was thought this was absolutely brilliant. Some would probably describe this as just the story of someone who is fatally injured right at the beginning of the film and spends the rest of the time dying - and they'd be right - but it wouldn't do justice to the amazing acting of all concerned (esp. the bounty hunters - The talkative Michael Wincott - who still manages to keep talking after being shot about 6 times, and the scary, taciturn Lance Henrikson).
Johnny Depp (Bill Blake) yet again proves what a good actor he is, he was totally believable as the accountant who finds himself penniless and adrift in an totally alien world and his slow descent from a "stupid white man" to "killer of white men".
Gary Farmer was excellent as Nobody, an English-educated Indian with a love for Williams Blake's poetry and a desire to see Blake "return" to the spirit world in the proper way. There are also some great parts played by Alfred Molina as the missionary, Iggy Pop, Bill Bob Thornton, Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt etc., all of whom added to the surreal atmosphere.
The black and white photography is magical, the story is bleak, funny, shocking, uplifting and painful in equal parts.
If you like your films full of action and dont want to think too much about the plot - this one is definitely not for you. If you love films that can be interpreted on many levels, with interesting characters, great acting and wonderful photography, you may - just possibly - love this film.
on April 18, 2003
Jim Jarmusch's fans seem to imediately whip out their proverbial bottles of searing vitriol whenever anyone dares to proclaim anything less than supplicated adoration for his work, which is unfortunate.
This is not a perfect film. It's themes are muddled; the William Blake references are slightly 'hokey' and would seem extraneous for anyone who has read the poetry in question. Although Depp's character is a sufficiently subverted quirk on the familiar 'man without a name' paradigm, Famer's 'metaphysical Native American' performance at times threatens to degenerate into unintentional parody. Jarmusch, with this film, has tried too hard to iconoclastically subvert the familiar tenets of the Western. It was a noble attempt, which succeeds in fits and starts (especially the relationship between Depp's quirky chracter and his complement, 'Nobody') but must be deemed a (relative) failure.
Still, there is much to be admired; Neil Young's guitar and Robby Muller's gorgeous photography. Also, Jarmusch's languidly moody direction is a definite plus.
on June 1, 2004
Do you like Johnny Depp?
Do you love Johnny Depp's weird off-beat roles?
If so you're going to enjoy this movie.
Do you like David Lynch?
Do you love David Lynch's disturbing semi psychotic plots, mind benders, and twisted endings?
If You said Yes to both of these questions. You will love this movie.
Nearly a "western" (which the only reason you can call it a western is because its...in..the west during...the western times but GET OVER IT) that you would imagine David Lynch creating, then mixing a bunch of depressants in his morning coffee.
If you wanna see a Pop- Teen Culture Johnny Depp, Go elsewhere.
If you want to see the Dark Inner sides of Depp. Which are rediculously amazing. Buy this. Now.
Oh and Iggy Pop, Billy Bob, Crispin Glover, and other familiar faces are hilariously perfect.
Im sure my wording and all that is crap cause its 2am, but im not trying even slightly to sound inteligent. So just read it, and get the point.
on July 18, 2002
Dead Man is a film beyond words, it is a masterpiece of black and white, a movie of texture and atmosphere, it is a lurid fantasy of western lore, a conflagration of the conventions of film action and acting, an ocher cucumber seen through a lens of vibrant green, a prefabricated orange in an otherwise somber bowl of fruit, something to regard with indigestion and a tendency to be pretentious, a motion of silence must be taken to avoid speaking too much about the subtle hysteria this film evokes, it is a film that aspires to be a silent film and fails only because it is not. Johnny Depp acts like Buster Keaton, with minimal facial movement, and a physical grace that makes you want to dance with him, while Crispin Glover shows up briefly just to remind you that he's a better actor than Johnny Depp, and Neil Young's raw and emotive guitar instrumental grows increasingly disturbing after the tenth time you hear it, but it is Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, and Robert Mitchum who remind you that this film is not meant to punish you but to make you laugh and then ask yourself why you ever took those old westerns seriously. If you don't like this western then I'd reccomend any John Wayne film (all his films are westerns) just for the thrill of seeing a drunken idiotic janitor shooting Injuns for two hours. I think the critic Roger Ebert said he liked this film because it made him want to read William Blake's poetry for ten minutes (in between screenings) just to have the pleasure of reading "some are born to endless night" over and over and feeling that at least one poet understood the horror of a movie critic's life.
on October 12, 2001
I first saw Jarmusch's Dead Man in New York at a movie house with a sputtering, broken sound system. This left a bad impression and I was slow to return to the film until I saw it on Czech television (without commercial interruption). By then I was infatuated and have since purchased the DVD to study the terms and conditions of its claim on my imagination. The sometimes scorching, oftimes lyrical Neil Young score is so intertwined now with my appreciation of the film that its first aborted attempt to lay claim to my interest has receded. Jarmusch has found the great idiomatic middle ground of art by intonation - i.e., the making of a film that hardly requires dialog at all. The freakish elements of the narrative (the occasional gruesomeness) seem almost outtakes, and it may well be simply a gesture at pure surreality for Jarmusch to include the pathetic to compensate for the intense pain of the black-and-white odyssey towards death made by William Blake (Johnny Depp), ne'er do well and waif shipwrecked in the bleak and sinister twilight of the Wild West. Gary Farmer as Nobody, Blakes' Indian guide to the edge of the other side, is both a hoot and a well-crafted play on the noble savage. (As reprise, the same character turns up in Jarmusch's Ghost Dog.) Anyway, once you know the story you could simply disappear into the visuality of the film and never return.
on June 28, 2002
So, here's the story. A gentleman from 19th century Ohio goes West to take a white collar job and ends up as an outlaw and then we don't actually know what happens to him in the end. If you saw this film, please tell me if I miss any single detail worth mentioning. That's it, there is nothing else there. No message to debate, no opinion to think about, nothing to come back to, to replay in the memory, nothing to watch again. In fact, I can't wait to forget that I saw it. Well, pretty good acting by Johnny Depp, can't deny this, in fact, top notch acting. The rest is nothing, emptiness, just some artsy scene arrangement, sort of cinematic ikebana. Dead body right, dead body left, kill this, kill that... Sound track matches the visuals with its sickness. I don't remember a seeing a NIGHTMARE that was as bad as this movie. The ending is nothing but a flop half baked in a hurry: some generic primitive native settlement that does not match anything you may find in any period of the history, for some reason with one hi-tech detail in it, two men shoot each other and set one more adrift into some water body, a lake or a sea, who cares. There were a couple Jim Jarmusch movies I liked, namely Night on Earth (very much) and The Samurai Way (sort of). Now, after that dead man-dead movie I am not sure if I like these either. Too much dark sickness, bad medecine.
on February 15, 2008
Right up front I'll state that I generally like movies that have well-defined plots, tell a good story, and have a satisfying ending. So, really, this movie wasn't for me (or my husband, who likes movies with positive endings that exemplify the triumph of the human spirit).
However, having said that, I did recognize some unique things about this film that make it stand out (though I wouldn't watch it a second time). There was some fairly innovative camera work, unique stylistic touches, grim realism superimposed on black comedy, and clever caricatures of some of the bizarrest of human behaviors. The result was that, even though the movie was unrelentingly depressing, at the end, all I could say about it was "That was just TOO weird!"
I love Neil Young, and, as some people have noted, his soundtrack was perfect for the "Too Weird" character of this movie. It was grating at times and too loud; but then, that was what was needed.
The "William Blake" theme that ran throughout the movie was another strange touch. Probably most of the people who watch this film will have as little idea who William Blake was as the protagonist. The bizarre experience of seeing a Native American quoting William Blake in the grim wilderness is just - again - Too Weird!
In the end, trying to give credit where it was due, even though it was not to my taste, I have to say that it was truly a unique movie, probably worth watching once just to be able to say "That was TOO Weird!"
on August 5, 2002
So you've got the people who think this film is self-imporant drivel. It is, but so much of any art is self-important drivel. Then there are the other's who proclaim it a masterpiece, a meditation on the intrusion of European man into the New World, and a commentary on William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell". Well, it's that too.
But what cracks me up is that so many people blithely dismiss Gary Farmer's performance in this film. Perhaps he's not "indian" enough. I believe that his role was intentionally made as a slap in the face to America's perception of the Native American. We are made to expect a lithe, sinewy, loin-cloth clad, brown-skinned fellow spouting pseudo-mystic back-to-nature platitudes. What does this film give us but big Gary Farmer. Sure he's spouting seemingly pseudo-mystic pronunciations, but so many of these are just an example of Nobody's incredibly biting humor. ("How did you know I was here?" "Often the stench of white man precedes him.") It may take a slight perceptory switch to understand how funny Farmer actually was in this role. Bravo to Farmer and Jarmusch for creating a role that makes a real person of a Native American, and not a simple conformity to the cozy idea of an "indian". For the record, Farmer is very much Indian. Cayuga, to be exact.
But alright, I'm with the "meditation" people on this movie. The relaxed, black and white approach of this movie points to the symbolic aspects of the film. Every scene is a furthering of the journey of our protagonist William Blake. Joseph Campbell would be flying about the room with this movie.
I also enjoy Neil Young's meandering guitar score. I liked it so much I bought the soundtrack.
DEAD MAN is as sure an example of any as Jarmusch's desire to understand the intersection of a culture he was raised in and others he doesn't know. While it may seem overwhelmingly bleak to some (How could it not? Look at the outcome.), it's probably one of the most understatedly humorous examples of the form you'll ever see.