February 4, 2008

A Bad Dream

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In the last few years, Woody Allen has moved from basing his films primarily in New York, or elsewhere in the States, to Europe, specifically England. His reasoning for this is that Hollywood is losing touch with the art of film and becoming increasingly concerned with (and more insistent upon) raking in the big bucks at the box office. He did that with Match Point and Scoop, and is now doing it again with his new release, Cassandra’s Dream.

Cassandra’s Dream is the tale of two brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), who are up to their knees in financial woes. Terry is flat broke and in debt to a loan shark while Ian is looking to acquire a hefty sum to pursue a surefire investment opportunity.

Looking for an answer to their predicament, they turn to their wealthy uncle, Howard (Tom Wilkinson), to rescue them, assuring him they will pay back every penny. Howard counters with the news that he too is in a bind and requires the help of his family, specifically Ian and Terry. He asks the boys to kill a man who will testify against him, jeopardizing his years of hard work and potentially landing him behind bars.
From here on ensues a struggle of moral ambiguity, as the brothers’ consciences are tested when they must choose between what is right and their own selfish desires.

Cassandra’s Dream seems to be a change of pace for Woody Allen. The director is notorious for his onscreen neurotic behavior and scripting of movies that delve into the study of human interaction and relationships with trademark witty dialogue. Here he’s remained solely behind the camera, but the analysis of the struggle between right and wrong, saint and sinner, is still present.

The bewildered brothers are down to earth average folks with serious girlfriends and a family. They have never done wrong in their lives, so the thought of eliminating another human being from this world is a tough concept to grasp.

To be honest, the film seems very trite and hackneyed. For someone like Woody Allen, who’s won and been nominated for Oscars up the yin yang, you would expect a better script and story.

Cassandra’s Dream was far too predictable; every twist is obvious from a mile away. It seems a whole lot like Woody’s previous movies, Match Point and Scoop, and not just because it’s set in London. It’s distressing to raise the possibility that maybe Woody’s better years are behind him and this could be the end of his career, but it might be so.

Ewan McGregor’s role as Ian is reminiscent of his previous work. He’s the brother that takes the bull by the horns and quarterbacks the predicament he and Terry are in. He’s outgoing, controlling and aspires to achieve his hopes and dreams — moving to Los Angeles with his new actress girlfriend to invest in some hotels to make the big bucks. Ian is juxtaposed by his brother, Terry, a drunken mechanic with a gambling problem, who is always down on his luck.

Colin Farrell seems to take a risk and explore a different kind of character, because in this role he’s quite displaced from his previous roles as an arrogant, cocky meathead. His performance is much more toned down and repressed, displaying actual human emotion.

Aside from the beleaguered brothers’ relationship at the center of the film, I would have liked to see more of Tom Wilkinson. His strong resume of recent work speaks for itself and, now with an Oscar nomination for Michael Clayton under his belt, it would have been nice to see him featured more prominently (he’s actually in maybe three scenes); maybe he could’ve turned this film around.

In spite of the recycled plot, Dream is quick paced and displays the constant self-doubt the brothers are experiencing with a certain efficacy. These good boys who just happen to be stuck in a rough patch have to overcome their former beliefs and grab hold of reality and do what is necessary in order to secure their desires for the future. The focus is not so much on the struggle leading up to the actual murder, but the aftermath, that is important — living with the fallout that cascades full throttle for the rest of the film after their decision. The gun-shy brothers repeatedly put it off until they are then forced to make an executive decision.

Allen reveals human nature in a much grimmer form than his films of past decades. This dark character study examines what you need to do in order to make your wildest dreams come true. The brothers want the best possible lives for themselves and their loves, but at what cost?