Dead Man is a depressing revisionist black comedy artistic western. Johnny Depp plays the title character, an innocent named William Blake from Cleveland who travels the the wild western town of Machine to claim an accounting job. When factory owner Robert Mitchum reneges on the deal, Blake is left nearly penniless. Before he knows it, he has been blamed for the death of Mitchum’s son and his fiancee, is severely wounded, and has a price put on his head. Lucky for him, Nobody cares… Nobody the Indian, that is (Gary Farmer). Nobody nurses him back to a conscious state between life and death, thinking that Blake is actually the great poet. However, things get even worse for Blake when a trio of ruthless bounty hunters are set on his trail, and everyone he meets turns out to be rather rotten. There are a couple of good things in this film: the black and white cinematography is superb, capturing the bleak isolation in all its glory. The friendship and interaction between Blake and Nobody is enjoyable and entertaining. There are several points in the film that are quite humorous (the interplay between Michael Wincott’s and Lance Henriksen’s bounty hunters in particular is rather amusing.) However, there are several bad things as well: Neil Young’s obtrusive, repetitive score jars against the film rather than flowing with it. The direction, by Jim Jarmusch, calls attention to itself more often than it should…the experience seems more like an exercise in filmmaking rather than a movie. A word to the queasy: there are several scenes of unexpectedly excessive gore (one in particular brings the phrase ‘ripe melon’ to mind). While gore has its place in the movies, its use here interrupts the flow of the movie, adds nothing, and is apparently intended only to shock the viewer. There are the workings of a good dark comedy in Dead Man, unfortunately the film takes a sharp left turn to become an artistic exercise rather than a good film.
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