Branagh was proving his chops as a genre filmmaker very early in his career, as “Dead Again” is not merely excellent, but could be one of the best films of 1991. It contains stabbings, revenge, infidelity, jealousy, and a delicious element of the supernatural. Branagh stars as a not-well-respected private investigator named Mike Church who takes in a mysterious mute woman (Emma Thompson) with amnesia. While Mike Church is investigating the mute woman’s identity — he has named her Grace — they are visited by a pleasant hypnotist named Franklyn (Derek Jacobi). Franklyn hypnotizes “Grace,” and she regresses into what might be a past life … perhaps as the victim of a notorious 1948 murder. In the 1948 story — filmed in beautiful black-and-white — Branagh plays a composer named Roman Strauss who was executed for murdering his wife Margaret, played by Thompson.
“Dead Again” is savvy and brilliant about constructing two mysteries at the same time. While Grace’s identity is uncovered, so too is the 1948 scandal that led to the death of Margaret Strauss. And, yes, it seems that we, in our current incarnations, may be susceptible to the actions of our previous incarnations. The script by Scott Frank (“Out of Sight”) is twisted and tantalizing.
“Dead Again” was a shock to fans of Branagh’s “Henry V,” who might have assumed the young Irish actor was only capable of theatrical language and classical theater. It seems that Branagh could construct a potboiler as well as anyone, taking advantage of the medium with the verve of someone just discovering cinema. He also, perhaps naturally, works well with actors, getting great performances from Thompson, Jacobi, and Robin Williams as a bitter, foul-mouthed former psychiatrist who now works in a grocery store.