Sunday, December 18, 2011

Short Review: Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

The December LAMB Movie of the Month is Dead Man, a 1995 film directed by Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers).

Johnny Depp gives a remarkable performance as William Blake in this surreal, bizarre, but masterful 19th Century western. We are first introduced to Blake on a train to a small town called Machine where he believes there is a job waiting for him as an accountant. He soon discovers that there is in fact no job and he is threatened off the property at gunpoint. Through a series of bad luck, he finds himself fatally wounded and on the run.

Found by a mysterious Native American outcast named Nobody (Gary Farmer), and mistaken for the ghost of 19th Century English poet of the same name, Blake is escorted through America's hostile West to an unknown destination in their attempts to escape the pursuit of the three hired killers sent after him.

As his physical condition worsens and the pair nears the coast, his spiritual journey begins. This is one of the strangest, bleakest westerns you will ever see, but also one of the most captivating and beautiful. The film moves slowly, but the town of Machine is fascinating and the scenes near the end where they encounter a Native American tribe are elegantly handled. There are trippy dream-like sequences, and the film maintains a great sense of humour.

There are some great cameos (Robert Mitchum, Lance Henriksen, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Gabriel Byrne and Alfred Molina pop up throughout), but it is the unique talents of Depp and Farmer who carry this film. There is also some pretty intense violence (including the infamous head-crushing scene), absolutely stunning black and white cinematography and an incredible improvised score from Neil Young. This is a 90’s classic, one of Jarmusch’s best films, and in my opinion, one of Depp’s best roles. Not to be missed.

My Rating: ★★★★★ (A)


  1. I need to see this one. The things of Jarmusch that I have seen have never landed right, but I never hear anything but good about "Dead Man."

  2. I haven't seen all of Jarmusch's work, but I think this is the best of his films. Really surreal, and trippy. Great dialogue, and stunning cinematography. It will leave an impression, I assure you. I didn't have time to watch it again (i have seen it a few times) because the LAMB MOTM deadline was closing.

  3. This is in that list of films that I want to see. I just have a hard time trying to find it on TV or on DVD.

  4. I paid quite a lot of money for it a a few years back. A blind purchase, but a good one!