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Movie Review: Cassandra’s Dream

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Woody Allen is a filmmaker with whom I have had very little experience (I know, I know). It is something that has changed a little over the past few years as I have seen some of his more recent films. At the top of the recent pile is Match Point. I have also enjoyed Anything Else (no, it's not great), Hollywood Ending, and Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Now here comes Cassandra's Dream, slipping in seemingly under cover of darkness. Granted, it has only just entered a limited release, but it seems odd that I have not encountered any mainstream hype or even seen a commercial or trailer. Whatever the case may be, Cassandra's Dream is here, brought to sleepy life on the big screen, hoping to deliver strong enough goods to warrant a wide expansion.

The set-up is strikingly similar to Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Both films feature brothers with financial difficulties. In both films the brothers are faced with a decision that could garner the funds they need to keep moving forward, but if they fail, the consequences are dire. As striking as the similarities are, the differences are just as striking. It is not so much the plot differences so much as the execution.

The Lumet film has a sense of immediacy; there is a feeling of urgency as the brothers set about their task and the tragic results that follow as they speed toward an uncertain future. The Allen film feels complacent. Sure, it allows the events to play out as they should, but it moves along at a pace that is sleep-inducing. The tension comes in fits and spurts, and never as often as it should. I never found myself caring about the duo.

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell are Ian and Terry, the fated brotherly duo. Ian is a dreamer; he dreams of leaving his father's restaurant behind and moving to America with the actress he has fallen in love with, but lacks the funds to realize his dreams. Terry is a compulsive gambler and heavy drinker whose habits have gotten him in some serious debt, a debt that he will not likely be able to dig himself out of. The two are desperate; they have no one else to turn to except their rich uncle who has just come to visit.

Uncle Howard, played by Tom Wilkinson, is more than willing to help out his nephews. The only problem is that he is in a little trouble himself. So, before he will turn over the cash, the boys have to do something for him. This is where everything begins to go downhill. Uncle Howard asks Ian and Terry to murder one of his business associates, one who is on the verge of testifying against him for some unknown charges (likely something to do with how he got his wealth, I would assume). This is a big decision for the brothers, one that will most definitely change their lives forever.

The premise is a good one. It is an intriguing set-up that leads to plenty of moral quandaries. Cassandra's Dream does go into this, but the characters never truly develop enough for me to care. They go through the motions and have their problems with the deal and the resulting effects are noticeable and immediate. I just wish I could have cared.

It is not that the performances were bad; they were all quite good. Both McGregor and Farrell do good work, particularly Farrell. The problem lies with the script; it lacks the punch necessary to push it over the top. It plays as a lesser version of the Lumet film and sort of feels like an apology for Match Point (which is a far superior film).

Cassandra's Dream is bleak. This is a movie that is not about the comedy, not about the jokes, and not about the good guy. This is about making the right decision and standing by it. Of course, this examines the ramifications of making the wrong decision and the results that it brings.

Beyond the lacking script, I cannot quite put my finger on what doesn't work. I never felt involved and at no point did I feel to be on the verge of caring. In the end, there was nothing to latch onto and while the story tells of the great downward spiral of tragedy it does not reach out to the audience to cause much of a reaction.

That said, there are a couple of nicely crafted sequences. When Uncle Howard ask for his nephews' help, the camera slowly revolves around them, separated by low hanging branches through the rain. It is a beautifully shot sequence. The other two sequences I dare not describe for fear of spoiling the suspense, but they work wonderfully and are quite suspenseful.

Bottom line. Good acting is not enough to salvage this dullard. There were moments where I felt threatened by the Sandman as my eyelids drooped a touch. Not a good sign. This is not one of Woody Allen's finer efforts, but one has to expect that from someone as prolific as he is. Better luck next time. In the meantime let's go watch Match Point again.

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