"Dead Man" is an often-overlooked black and white western written and directed by Jim Jarmusch in 1995. Similar to Jarmusch's earlier black and white films such as "Down by Law" and "Strangers in Paradise", "Dead Mans" story unfolds through a series of brief interludes that fade in out of the lives of the people surrounding the journey of Bill Blake, the stories central character, a mild mannered accountant portrayed with quiet style by Johnny Depp.
We are introduced to Blake, on an 18th century train journey to the end of the line from civilized Cleveland into the wilds of the then unexplored western frontier. The journey mirrors the surroundings, and the further away from the civilized modern world, the wilder it becomes.
Depp plays the straight man perfectly in this film and holds a look of dumfounded amazement as his life quickly falls to pieces. Blake discovers that his promised job in the rough western town has already been filled. With no way to return, Blake goes to a nearby tavern to drown his sorrows and becomes entangled in an affair with a captivating flower girl. However this peace ends quickly when the girls long lost fiancee returns. It is here when Depps character becomes marked as a Dead Man when he becomes the sole survivor of a fatal love triangle, between himself, the girl, and the fiancee who happens to be the son of the towns' wealthy businessman who turned him down for his job.
While Johnny Depp holds the leading role, it's the supporting cast that brings Dead Man to life. Appearances by Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thornton, Lance Hendrickson, Gabriel Byrne, and even Iggy Pop amongst others flesh out Jarmusch's western with compelling moments that reveal a quirky yet somehow more real world than Hollywoods traditional western fare. However, it is Gary Farmers role as "Nobody" the philosophical Indian that finds Depp and travels with him on his path toward the afterworld that carries the movies spirit to its ultimate conclusion.
"Dead Man" isn't a typical western and isn't a movie for the weak of heart. Jarmusch's wild frontier is as raw as it is beautiful, and the violence in the story is displayed with harsh and unglamorous realism. Neil Young's haunting soundtrack provides the sonic landscape that binds the tale together. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
© 2002 - Purple - Air Date: 12/1/99
USA - 1995