Dead Again [1991]

British thespian and sophomore director Kenneth Branagh follows up his adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V with this abrupt change of pace, a slick, stylish thriller evocative of Hitchcock, classic film noir, and gothic shockers. Sporting an exaggerated American accent, Branagh stars as L.A. private eye Mike Church, a hard-boiled but softhearted detective who takes on the case of a mysterious amnesiac (Branagh's then-real-life wife, Emma Thompson). With the help of an offbeat furniture dealer and part-time hypnotist (Derek Jacobi), Grace (as Mike has named her) dredges up her hidden memories. Little do they realize that her recollections are of a past life in L.A.'s recent history, and as she recounts the details of a famous marriage that ended with a notorious murder (played out as black-and-white flashbacks starring Branagh and Thompson), events of the present begin to mirror the past, as if fate were pulling the two into fatal replay of history. Branagh's flashy, flourished direction echoes with an array of '40s and '50s classics and near classics (most notably Hitchcock's Rebecca and Spellbound) and drives the story with an edgy urgency, all the better to distract from some of the sillier elements of the plot. But while this film may not make literal sense in the harsh light of day, in the twilit, shadowy world of classic Hollywood this slyly inventive thriller is a bravura bit of old-fashioned entertainment, done up with modern flair. --Sean Axmaker

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