Woody Allen has passed his golden period in American Cinema, and while I doubt we will get another “Annie Hall” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors” from the 72-year-old writer-director, he can still create an interesting, absorbing and literate movie.
His third movie shot in England, “Cassandra’s Dream” is a handsome and laid-back morality tale dealing with the effects of crime on the conscience. It’s no “Crime and Punishment,” but it is a fine, character-driven drama that holds our interest until the last scene. Throughout, you can spot influences of Dostoyevsky, Hitchcock, Arthur Miller and even a smattering of Greek tragedy.
DREAM COME TRUE
Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell portray two working-class brothers with ambitions soaring beyond their means. As Terry, an auto body man, Farrell has his best role yet on film. Though the restless Terry would like to upgrade his lifestyle, his means of generating sufficient cash is at the poker table and race track, where he ends up incurring debts bound to net broken limbs. He can be as morose as he is exuberant.
His high point is winning enough to buy a boat with the proceeds from a 60-1 shot named Cassandra’s Dream, which will also be the name of his new acquisition. He is a nice guy, and with alternating moods, Farrell accords Terry considerable dimension.
McGregor’s Ian is a pleasant bloke who “plays a big shot in borrowed cars” from his brother’s garage. His ambitions soar when he meets the beautiful model-actress Angela, played by Hayley Atwell. Suddenly, the suave, debonair Ian is talking about and pursuing investments in L.A. condos and finding connections for Angela in the entertainment world. Most of us would conclude he is in over his head.
But in the wings is Uncle Howard, who like Uncle Ben in Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” is the family member who made good, an international entrepreneur of sorts with connections in Beijing and Hollywood.
As luck would have it, the beneficent Howard (Tom Wilkinson) shows up with flowers for his sister. After a meal at Claridge’s, Ian and Terry plead their cases. The latter owes £90,000 to the loan sharks, while the other wants as much for his investments. This time. there’s a catch. It seems that Uncle Howard’s labors have not all been above board, and there’s this pesty fellow who needs “to be got rid of.”
Wilkinson presents the unsavory offer in a cordial manner; it’s as if he is asking the brothers to pick up some laundry in an inconvenient location instead of requesting a murder. No one needs to mention the obvious: that with Howard in the slammer, there will be no loan, and thus, instant and permanent oblivion for Ian and Terry. No longer will the brothers be able to exclaim, as did Warren Beatty’s Clyde, that “Ain’t Life Grand,” Ian’s favorite movie line ever.
The rest of “Cassandra’s Dream,” is devoted to the effect the request has on the brothers’ psyche. If they do get their ample requests for cash from Uncle Howard, they will have to deal with conscience, and as we will see, one ends up a suicidal wreck, while the other stays cool until another trial of conscience smacks him squarely in his heart.
Allen’s approach to his material is casual. No jokes, puns, or humorous asides. No heavy forays into grave, metaphysical exposition. It’s a laid-back style that might disarm or annoy Allen fans, but aside from a rather harried ending, I found “Cassandra’s Dream” to be a pleasure and a treat, the effect being not unlike the experience of sitting down with a decent crime novel; in this case, one in which we can put ourselves in the places of two regular guys suddenly faced with a life-altering decision.
It’s not Dostoyevsky, but neither is it a shopworn trifle. It is, if you will excuse the literary metaphor, a good read.
Reach Gazette film critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Woody Allen
STARRING Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Tom Wilkinson, Sally Hawkins, Clare Higgins and Phil Davis
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes