Cannes 2019: The Dead Don’t Die

Heads Will Roll

And we’re off! The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival has started under a very blue sky and a lot of sunshine. During the previous years, the festival opened with astounding films such as “Everybody Knows”, “Les Fantômes d’Ismaël” and “La Tête haute” and so this year it couldn’t be otherwise.

After receiving more than 1845 submissions, the honour went to Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”, “Paterson”) and his “The Dead Don’t Die”, a film about zombies terrorising a small city. Well, what could go wrong? Anything and nothing really.

Still light at 8 pm, animals going missing without any trace and doom reports about the end of the world. Yep, there’s definitely something totally off in Centerville. Despite all the weirdness going on, police officers Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) call the place their home.

However, the ‘lovely home’ feeling is about to disappear when they find the local diner owner and waitress dead. It seems that the women were eaten by a wild animal (or were it even multiple?!). After his gut telling him that ‘it’s going to end badly’ and after connecting the weird dots, Peterson can come to one and one conclusion only: This has been the work of zombies.

As more and more unusual cases turn up around the city, and after one making its way to the police station, Peterson’s conclusion is being confirmed.

Ok, it’s not so unusual to find dead bodies in the mortuary of the eccentric and mysterious coroner Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) but when they come to life again, that doesn’t promise anything good.

Will a spreading zombie plague be the end of Centerville or will the police force cut, blow off or shoot off every head until the city is safe? And what is that ‘it’ as in ‘it’s going to end badly’ anyway?

When you heard the words ‘zombies’ and ‘film’ in the same sentence you might start to wonder why a film like “The Dead Don’t Die” was even considered for the openings ceremony.

Well, we can think of a few reasons why the movie deserved that title. The most compelling one is without a doubt the immensely clever written dialogue. From the moment we meet Robertson and Peterson, it’s obvious that this movie will make us laugh because of its humouristic, funny and on-point conversations.

Especially between Driver and Murray and when Chloë Sevigny (“Lizzie”, “Lean on Pete”) joins the gang as the third police officer Mindy Morrison, the dialogue really become the highlight of the film. “The Dead Don’t Die” is filled with self-mockery and even director Jarmusch and his work are being questioned. Some jokes are being told twice but when it happens in a movie like this, it’s still funny. It’s a trick that lifts this movie to a higher level.

It’s very hard to bring that humour and self-mockery to the screen in a perfect way. It can easily be overdone and then the film would have become a parody and if it’s delivered with not enough flair, craftsmanship or body then the desired effect isn’t reached.

As a director, you just only want the “crème de la crème” for a film like this and what Jarmusch got can be described as exactly that. With names like Tom Waits (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, “The Old Man & the Gun”) Adam Driver (“Silence”, “Logan Lucky”), Bill Murray (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Monuments Men”) and Tilda Swinton (“Okja”, “Doctor Strange”), there is definitely enough star power present.

It’s especially Driver and Murray who carry this film. After making furore in “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, Driver returns to Cannes as the headstrong, skillful and ruthless officer who’s clearly convinced that his days are counted and that the end is near.

It’s not a surprise that Jarmusch wanted to work again with Bill Murray after their wonderful collaboration for “Broken Flowers”. Instead of playing an older man looking for his former lovers, Murray turns up this time as the heated, stubborn but also compassionate Robertson.

There’s also a lot of room for powerful women in “The Dead Don’t Die” and the most bad-ass one is without a doubt Tilda Swinton, who worked with Jarmusch during “Only Lovers Left Alive”. She portrays the fiercely, sword-wielding and eccentric coroner just as we expected from her: With a lot of passion, dedication, and empathy.

During its premiere on Tuesday night, “The Dead Don’t Die” was simultaneously screened in almost 600 cinemas all over France. While the film will only be released in the U.K. on the 12th of July, it will be worth the wait.

With an astounding witty script, beautifully and precisely shot scenes without being over the top and stunning acting performances, director Jarmusch made a film, well, just to die for.

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves

12th July 2019

Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch

Running Time:
1h 43min


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