It's going to be a tough sell in a season of impossible missions and improbable special effects, but DEAD MAN is a film of rare beauty and genuine insight.
This art film in Western clothing marks a departure for director/writer Jim Jarmusch, the hipster auteur best known for quirky, coolly amusing character studies, from STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984) to NIGHT ON EARTH (1992). In a town called Machine, mild-mannered accountant Bill Blake (Johnny Depp)
turns outlaw after shooting a man in self-defense. Pursued by an unlikely team of gunslingers (Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd), he heads for the wilderness, finding a partner and spiritual guide in the person of a philosophical Indian called Nobody (Gary Farmer).
DEAD MAN is no conventional outlaw saga. Just beneath its burnished surface lies a visionary allegory of the soul's progress from physical death to spiritual transcendence, seasoned with references to the life and works of the poet William Blake. But the film's rather hefty agenda needn't scare
off Jarmusch fans, nor must it alienate the kind of inquiring moviegoers who keep Miramax in business.
A slow-paced but hypnotically absorbing movie, it's buoyed by Jarmusch's trademark off-key humor and embellished throughout by an electrifying instrumental score, courtesy of Neil Young. On the visual level, it's simply resplendent: Cinematographer Robby Muller works from an exceptionally rich
black-and-white palette, and what he does for Jarmusch here is quite comparable to what Kazuo Miyagawa's camera did for Mizoguchi. And DEAD MAN even has star power, in the form of Depp, who gives further evidence of his gallant -- to some, inexplicable -- commitment to the offbeat.
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