Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Release Date: January 18th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Woody Allen Actors: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Tom Wilkinson, Ashley Medekwe, Jennifer Higham
fter exiting a year thriving on depressingly dark pictures, Woody Allen’s newest film “Cassandra’s Dream” can easily be compared to the crime-drama likes of Sydney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” and, of course, Allen’s own 2005 venture “Match Point.” Even though the acting is sensational and the constant production of white-knuckle suspense is nearly flawless, the storyline is habitual territory for Allen, mixing average, down-on-their-luck people with criminal opportunities for remediation. Resultantly, “Cassandra’s Dream” feels like something we’ve all seen before.
Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) are brothers from a modest London family who work hard and play hard at a restaurant and a mechanic shop, respectively. Ian is even-tempered and composed, and has high hopes of investing in hotels in California; Terry lives by the moment and enjoys the risky stakes of gambling on dog races and poker. When Terry gets himself in a financial bind, the two young men turn to their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), a millionaire businessman who seldom visits but often looks after the brothers where money is concerned. This time, however, Howard is in dire need of Ian and Terry’s help – a pesky witness in a detrimental case against Howard’s company is in need of a quick silencing. Murder was never something the boys figured themselves capable of, but after Howard’s persistence and their desperation for funds, the two contemplate committing the crime.
Opening with the perfect murder music by composer Philip Glass, “Cassandra’s Dream” carefully sets up the development of Ian and Terry and their functioning but careless lives, building tension as details fall into place. After the introduction of Howard’s dilemma, the suspense becomes nerve-wracking and tightly paced, mixing in Hitchcockian surprises and guilt-laden twists. But despite the intriguing setup, the conclusion may leave many viewers decidedly disappointed, as it opts for irony and a message rather than pure satisfaction.
The acting stands out above the progression of the story, as Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell appear intentionally cast against their usual character types. Ewan is collected and plotting, while Farrell portrays the brother that succumbs to self-destructive remorse. Tom Wilkinson also delivers a superb supporting turn as a man with a discordant aura of noblesse oblige that coerces the once-reasoning brothers into attempting an act they would otherwise deem unthinkable. If it weren’t for the engrossing performances by the entire ensemble (also including Hayley Atwell and Sally Hawkins), “Cassandra’s Dream” would barely be able to surface from the sea of other similarly bleak projects, submerged in downward spiraling, despondent, antihero protagonists.
Beautifully cynical dialogue encourages many laughs toward the unpredictable denouement, while a thick fog of foreshadowing lingers around most of the carefully selected words. “You won’t be sorry,” pressures Howard, and “Ain’t life grand,” quote the brothers from “Bonnie and Clyde,” a film that mirrors looming tragedies. Allen seems to say that guilt fuels just as many bad decisions as greed, with “Cassandra’s Dream” serving as a visualization for inevitable moral deviations and consequences for the everyman. But purposefulness, great acting, and very solid direction aren’t able to dissuade the tone, mood, and overall feel of the film from being overly familiar. While the story demonstrates a marginally inventive twist on a tried-and-true formula, it’s ultimately just another take on one of Woody Allen’s favorite motifs: a moment of recklessness (or human weakness) and the complex aftermath of repercussions.
– Mike Massie