March 9, 2008

Cassandra’s Dream review
Cassandra’s Dream

Matt: Three and a half Stars
Tracy: Three stars

Length: 108 min

How far will you go to make your dreams come true?
Family is family. Blood is blood.
Every dream has its price.

Précis: A low-key and serious Woody Allen film that is again focused on the ethics and consequences of murder and ambition.

Review by Matt:

Cassandra’s Dream is the latest offering from cinema workhorse Woody Allen. I would have said ‘cinema powerhouse’ but, although this remains true, Woody has been pumping out yearly movies for a while that have never managed to garner the critical acclaim lavished on his earlier masterpieces. Following last year’s much-derided comedy Scoop (which I actually found a pretty fun film), Woody has returned to the serious tone that earned Match Point such praise. Cassandra’s Dream is a little bit like a dream itself, with echoes of Scoop, Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors all swirling around in what is overall a fairly low-key event. Watching Cassandra’s Dream in isolation though, you can’t deny it’s a decent film with an interesting take on murder and morality, some squirm-inducing suspense, and some good performances from its two charismatic leads.

This is not one of Woody Allen’s comedies. He doesn’t appear in it. There’s not even anyone impersonating his neurotic persona. Woody is still obsessing about the themes that have dominated his last few films, primarily murder and morality amongst England’s well-to-dos and want-to-bes. The story is punched out sharp and quick. As the film opens, brothers Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor) excitedly purchase a boat – Cassandra’s Dream – a symbol of their aspirations to leave their dead end jobs and move on up. Unfortunately, there are some hurdles in the way of this plan. Without wanting to give too much away, it’s best to say that chance, that great arbitrary giver and punisher that frequents Woody Allen films, enters into the plot with a dangerous opportunity. The brothers’ reactions to this generate some electrifying Hitchcockian tension (which is punctuated by an ominous Phillip Glass score). In particular, the stress of the situation highlights Ian’s and Terry’s different characters and, like Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream shows us how characters can react when they step into a moral morass. Unfortunately, for a film focussed on a heavy subject, it seems to gloss over it a bit simply. Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point did it much more satisfyingly. Cassandra’s Dream also propels us to an ending that seems inevitable and, for me, disappointingly rushed.

The performances donate some pluses and some minuses to Cassandra’s Dream. Ewan McGregor is particularly strong – he seems endlessly flexible and he makes some of the more stilted dialogue come off. Farrell is equally charismatic and the two are good to watch together. They make the film work, for in lesser hands parts of the script could have seemed bombastic. It seems that this poisoned Tom Wilkinson though, who is usually a fine performer. He plays a small role as the borthers’ troubled, rich uncle. Here I found him awkward and unreal. As one other critic put it, he may as well have been holding a styrofoam skull aloft and yelling “acting!”. Hayley Atwell is suitably snobbish as the high-maitenance amateur actress that Ian is desperate to woo.

Perhaps one of the downsides with the straightforward narrative style is that Cassandra’s Dream feels a bit contrived. It’s one thing to infuse the world with omens of Greek tragedy – the title Cassandra’s Dream obviously puts it out there from the start. This is a nice layer. But when the plot and the dialogue are generally so tightly constructed, the symbolism can seem a bit like a slap in the face. Aficionados might also remember ‘Cassandra’ from the Greek chorus line in Woody’s 1995 film Mighty Aphrodite crying “I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers!” There it is a slap in the face also, but in the absurd context it is right. Woody’s writing in Cassandra’s Dream seems lazy, the metaphors obvious, the characters more like archetypes than complex humans. It’s a good and exciting story, but it’s hard not to think that if Woody perhaps turned his machine-like prolificness down a notch and just let it stew, he might have been able to produce another brilliant Crimes and Misdemeanors. If that doesn’t work for him, I hope he’s not too old and nihilistic to bring the giant banana peels back out and treat us to his talent for absurd comedy.


One comment

  1. Apparently Woody Allen’s next film is going to be called Vicky Cristina Barcelona and will again have Scarlett Johannson in it. Also Javier Bardem! The film after that is going to have Larry David (of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame) in it – no doubt doing a Woody Allen impersonation. He’s most of the way there already!

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