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Dead Man (1995)

Jim Jarmusch at his most subtle

Jim Jarmusch films walk the fine line between high-concept perfection and misfired dreck, and Dead Man is about as close to perfection as cinema gets. It's also supercool -- cameos by Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Crispin Glover, Gabriel Byrne, Alfred Molina and Robert Friggin' Mitchum cement that status. But unlike Jarmusch's execrable Coffee and Cigarettes, Dead Man doesn't thump its chest to let you know how chic it is. Instead it relies on a marvelously subtle, centered performance from Johnny Depp as a wayward Old West bookkeeper named William Blake to ground the film.

Jarmusch's Old West is lush, wooded and fraught with post-period humor that, unlike the vastly overrated Unforgiven, winks at itself just enough to avoid self-parody. Neil Young's haunting score is exquisite. And while Depp is pitch-perfect as always, the most riveting performances are delivered by Jarmusch favorite Gary Farmer as a heroic Native American named Nobody and Mili Avital as a promiscuous small-town beauty who takes a bullet for Depp's character when her estranged fiancé (Byrne) walks in on their one-night stand early in the film. Using little more than her hypnotic eyes to convey lust and heartache, Avital achieves in five minutes of screen time what the winner of The Starlet can only hope to accomplish in a lifetime.

Speaking of The Starlet, what the fuck is Faye Dunaway thinking? Here we have one of Hollywood's all-time greats willfully soiling her legacy by playing a poor woman's Simon Cowell on a WB reality show (a ridiculously enjoyable guilty pleasure, we'll concede). If Dunaway comes back for a second season, she'll undoubtedly be remembered not for her acting prowess but for being the heartless hardboiled cunt on The Starlet. Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

 
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