Dead Man

Released:  1995

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Michael Wincott, Lance Henriksen, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Mitchum

SUMMARY:  William Blake (Johnny Depp) is an accountant from Ohio, who has been promised a job in the far Western town of Machine, in the metal works factory of John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum).  On the train ride, the train’s fireman (Crispin Glover) suddenly sits down in front of Blake, and warns him against joining the company.  He turns out to be right about one thing:  Blake’s job is no longer available when he arrives in Machine, having been filled a month earlier.  Blake has spent all of his money getting to Machine, and so is forced to stay there.  That evening, he meets a woman named Thel Russell, a former prostitute who now earns a living selling paper flowers.  Blake goes home with her, only to be surprised later in the evening when Thel’s former flame, Charlie (Gabriel Byrne) appears in the room.  Charlie draws his gun on Blake, but Thel throws herself in front of Blake.  The bullet goes straight through her, killing her immediately, before lodging in Blake’s chest.  Blake then takes Thel’s hidden gun and fires several times at Charlie, eventually hitting him in the neck and killing him.  He then gathers his things, climbs out of the window, steals a horse, and heads out of town.  Unfortunately, Blake does not know that Charlie was the son of John Dickinson, who has almost unlimited resources:  he hires three notorious hitmen, Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen), Conway Twill (Michael Wincott), and Johnny “The Kid” Pickett, to find Blake and the horse.  Meanwhile, Blake awakens to find himself lying on the ground, while a Native American man tries to dig the bullet out of his chest with a knife.  The man, who calls himself Nobody (Gary Farmer), eventually announces that the bullet is too close to Blake’s heart to get out, and that Blake is facing imminent death.  Nobody was educated in white schools, and thus has heard of the poet named William Blake:  when he learns that the man before him has the same name, he decides that the accountant must be a reincarnation of the poet.  This somehow endears Blake to Nobody, who decides that they must go to the Pacific Ocean so that Blake can take his place in the spirit world.

Dickinson proves to be a dedicated hunter:  in addition to hiring the three killers, he has sent out wanted posters promising bounties for Blake’s capture or death.  Nobody gives Blake some rough lessons in survival and gun usage, saying that he will need it to finish his journey.  However, Nobody abruptly decides that Blake needs to have  vision quest, and leaves him alone in the wilderness.  Blake encounters two U.S. Marshals who are hunting for him, but he kills them both.  When he finds Nobody and joins up with him again, the pair find three men camping.  Nobody sends Blake in to investigate.  Initially the men seem friendly, but they soon turn on Blake and prepare to kill him; instead, Blake and Nobody team up to take out the three men.  All this time, Dickinson’s three hitmen have been tracking the pair.  Not long into the trip, Cole Wilson kills The Kid for questioning him.  He continues on with Twill for some time, but the man’s constant talking gets on his nerves, and he eventually kills him as well (and then eats him).  Blake and Nobody arrive at a trading post, where the owner recognizes Blake and attempts to kill him.  Once again, Blake and Nobody come out on top.  However, Blake is shot again in another conflict, and his body begins to shut down.  He continues to travel with Nobody, who visits a tribe and barters for a canoe for Blake’s journey to the spirit world.  Blake passes out, and when he awakens he is lying in the canoe in burial dress.  Nobody then pushes him out into the ocean, but Blake is still (barely) alive.  As he floats, Blake sits up and sees Cole Wilson come up behind Nobody; the two men fire and kill each other.  Blake lays back down in the canoe and dies.

MY TAKE:  We all know Johnny Depp is a weird dude, and a lot of his movies reflect this.  This movie, which was called a “psychedelic Western” by its director, Jim Jarmusch, is no different.  At times I actually wondered whether Blake was already dead, given the strange, trippy events that occurred.  Nobody does some peyote at one point, but I felt as though Blake had done some too, based on what I was seeing on the screen.  There’s not a ton of dialogue, especially in the back half of the film, as Blake gets closer to death.  It was also weird because it has a very strange plot.  Blake somehow turns from meek, scared bookworm to deadly gunfighter, who kills numerous experienced men, and then takes off with a really weird Native American who speaks in indecipherable metaphors.  The two are aware that they are being pursued by hitmen, but don’t seem to care or even notice after a while.  They never mention or act on the fact that they need to stay ahead of these men, and there’s no sense of urgency to the film.  Meanwhile, the three hitmen, who are supposed to be the best around, meander around behind them, getting close but apparently not making a serious attempt to overtake them.  Instead, two of them prove dumb enough to be killed by Cole Wilson, which doesn’t say much about their prowess as hitmen.  Conway Twill talks constantly, which is hilarious, but anybody who knows anything about hunting will tell you that you have to be quiet.  I was amazed that he even stayed with Wilson after The Kid was shot:  if the man is crazy enough to shoot a guy in the back while he’s squatting to get a drink, you can bet that I wouldn’t be hanging around with him.  Then, when Wilson finally does catch up to Blake and Nobody — at the Pacific Ocean, where they literally have nowhere else to run — he confronts Nobody in the open, and gets himself killed.  Not too impressive.  There were also a lot of characters that seemed rather unnecessary to the plot, but were played by famous people, so they had to be included.  For example, I have no idea why Nobody sent Blake into the group of three fur traders that were camping.  They end up shooting all three of them, but don’t take anything other than a plate of beans.  Nobody didn’t do anything while Blake was talking to the men, so what was the point?  It’s a very strange movie.

RATING:  Too weird.

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