Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd, Mili Avital, Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris, Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt, Alfred Molina, Robert Mitchum
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Audio: DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: April 24, 2018

ďYou William Blake?Ē

ďYes I am. Do you know my poetry?Ē

Film ***

Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker whose work Iíve yet to discover for the most part, with the exception of the quite brilliant Broken Flowers. I attempted to view one of his most recent films, The Limits of Control, and couldnít make it past the 15 minute mark as I found it to be a super slow, tedious bore. But now having seen his revisionist western Dead Man, Iím thinking it may be time for me to reconsider looking into more of the directorís work.

To say this isnít in any way a traditional western might be a grand understatement. In fact, this wouldnít even classify in the same league with unconventional fare like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or The Assassination of Jesse James. Whether youíre fond of the film or not, you have to give Jarmusch immense credit for crafting a western that is indeed in a class by itself.

In actuality, the western setting is more a less the backdrop for what is essentially a spiritual journey of the lead character. That man is William Blake (Johnny Depp), an accountant who at the beginning of the film has traveled by train from his home town of Cleveland, following the death of his parents, to a frontier outpost known as Machine, where a job awaits him. Moments before departing the train, he is forewarned by a soot-covered train worker (Crispin Glover), that a grim fate awaits him in this town.

And sure enough, strange events start happening to Blake once entering Machine. He arrives at his new job (a steel mill), only to discover from the office manager (John Hurt) that said job doesnít even exist. Understandably aggravated, Blake confronts the owner of the mill, Dickinson (a delightfully scenery-chewing Robert Mitchum), who simply responds with a shotgun and asks the accountant to leave.

He then encounters a sad girl in the middle of town, who then invites him to bed with her. They are soon interrupted by her jealous lover (Gabriel Byrne), who then proceeds to shoot her dead. Blake shoots and kills him, is wounded in the process and flees the scene. Turns out, the jealous lover was the son of Dickinson, who in turn hires a trio of trained killers to hunt down and kill Blake.

Once Blake regains consciousness, he finds himself in the presence of a Native American who simply goes by name Nobody (Gary Farmer). He is quite fond of Blake mainly because he believes him to be the English poet of the same name. Nobody was raised by white men and educated in England. William Blake is one of his literary heroes, so itís easy to see why he would perk up at a chance encounter with a white man with the same name.

The accountant accepts this and soon, the two are on a spiritual journey. Nobody serves as his companion, and he will lead Blake to a mystical place where his spirit can be placed where it firmly belongs. All the while, the two are continuously pursued by the hired guns.

Dead Man is indeed a hard film to figure out and, in a strange way, thatís part of the filmís entire appeal. Thereís also multiple elements it has going for it, especially the beautiful black and white photography from Robby Muller and the terrifically unconventional music score from Neil Young, both of which are vital ingredients in delivering the feel of a truly distinctive western. The entire cast is also quite memorable, led by Johnny Depp in a perfected piece of understated acting.

Jim Jarmusch set out to make a western unlike any other that had been seen before, and he truly succeeded with this film!

Video ****

Criterion soars once again with another remarkable 4k restoration, which was supervised by Jim Jarmusch! This is my first experience with this film, but I canít imagine any other release coming even an inch close to the quality displayed here. The black and white picture is absolutely stunning from beginning to end. The picture exudes richness in both dark and light images. The level of detail in every frame, especially in daytime outdoor sequences, is of absolutely flooring quality. Top notch work all the way!

Audio ****

Equal marks of praise for the audio quality! The DTS 2.0 mix grabs you right from the opening as Neil Youngís music scores pierces your hearing senses! Dialogue delivery is nothing short of terrific and the momentary bursts of violence also is delivered in an effective form!

Features ***1/2

In true Criterion fashion, we are treated to some fantastic extras, starting with a Q&A with Jim Jarmusch, who answers a series of questions sent in by fans, which is quite engaging. We also get a glimpse of Neil Young in rarely seen footage composing and performing the filmís score, along with a music video for one of the tracks from the score. Thereís also a new interview with actor Gary Farmer, as well as new readings of William Blake poems by members of the cast, including Mili Avital, Alfred Molina, and Iggy Pop. Also featured is a selected-scene audio commentary by production designer Bob Ziembicki and sound mixer Drew Kunin, Deleted Scenes, Jarmuschís location scouting photos (all in color) and the filmís Trailer. Lastly, there is an insert featuring essays by film critic Amy Taubin and music journalist Ben Ratliff.


Jim Jarmusch distinctive, minimalist approach helps make Dead Man perhaps the most distinctive western to ever exist, even when compared to the more unconventional of the genre. Itís a strange little journey of a film, but one that I found very rewarding. The new Blu-ray from Criterion is worth experiencing, as it features one of the best Black and White presentations you will ever see!

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