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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dead Man

A movie that's a good litmus test for critics

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 7, 1997 -- If you are looking for a western that's really different, I mean if novelty is what you're looking for, look no further than "Dead Man."

"Dead Man" is directed by Jim Jarmusch ("Night on Earth" and "Mystery Train"). It stars Johnny Depp ("Edward Scissorhands") and Crispen Glover is in it too (which ought to tell you something right there). The music is by Neil Young (II). These are all strange people. It is not surprising they've combined to create a truly strange film.

For instance, did you know that a significant number of people in the Old West were cannibals? In this film, that's the case. Depp plays William Blake, an accountant who heads west to take a job in a very surrealistic little town and ends up killing the son of a powerful industrialist who sends a posse of scruffy homicidal psychopaths after him, including Lance Henriksen, who has no difficulty portraying a fellow who is scruffy, cannibalistic and homicidal.

Blake is befriended by an outcast American Indian named Nobody (Who's on First!) played by Gary Farmer ("Pow Wow Highway"). Together they meander on a journey of discovery, merrily killing would-be bounty hunters and other vicious people as they go, including a sort of Monty Python-like troupe of cannibals.

This description, however, is deceiving. It makes it appear as if this movie has energy and action. It does not. The opening train ride sequence, for instance, takes about 10 minutes, but it feels like the 12-hour nightmare Amtrak ride I endured once from San Francisco to Salem.

In this movie, Jarmusch displays an uncanny knack of having absolutely nothing happening on the screen for long periods of time, fading to black, and then coming back with still more nothing. The musical score consists of endless Neil Young guitar riffs that seem as pointless as the film itself.

The black and white cinemaphotography in the film by Robby Mueller, however, is quite striking and evocative of older westerns. Depp and Farmer do a good acting jobs, given the material they have to work with, but this film is largely a waste of time.

This film is a good litmus test for certain types of critics, like myself and Roger Ebert, who hate this stuff, and others, like Scott Renshaw, who love it. It is interesting to look up reviews of say a dozen or so critics to see how big of a spread there is on this movie.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1997 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)