reviewed by Marc Glassman
Cassandra’s Dream. Woody Allen, director and writer. Starring: Ewan McGregor (Ian), Colin Farrell (Terry), Hayley Atwell (Angela Stark), Sally Hawkins (Kate), Tom Wilkinson (Uncle Howard), Phil Davis (Martin Burns), Clare Higgins (Mother), John Benfield (Father)
Buyer beware. When brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) buy a boat, shouldn’t it have occurred to one of them to not call it Cassandra’s Dream? Woody Allen’s latest drama centres on these London blokes, who seem likeable to begin with, but clearly lack an education in the classics.
Not Allen, whose Mighty Aphrodite established years ago that the neurotic auteur knows his Greek tragedies all too well. Cassandra, as any classicist can tell you, is a prophet, whose dire predictions all turn out to be true — and is never believed by anyone before they happen.
In a film replete with characters who have bad dreams and whose lives gradually become nightmarish, shouldn’t Allen have realized that he might have been pushing his luck too far? Cassandra’s Dream is the fourth film in the New York writer-director’s European adventure. His drama Match Point and comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona were critical and “art” box-office hits, but Scoop, which starred the aging comedian and his latest film (if not real-life) muse, Scarlett Johansson, was a flop.
So it may be fitting, or at least mathematically precise, for Cassandra’s Dream to turn out to be a failure as a drama.
There’s a flatness to the production, as if no one had their heart in the film. The storyline is dire and it wouldn’t take Cassandra to figure out the ending.
Despite owning a boat, Ian and Terry need money. The more ambitious of the two, Ian meets and falls in love with a hot young actress, Angela (Hayley Atwell); he’ll do anything to get her connected in Hollywood while he pursues a dream of making a fortune in the hotel business.
Terry is a gambler who works at a sports car garage; his girl Kate (Sally Hawkins) loves him madly — but he hasn’t told her that he’s gone deeply into debt with loan sharks.
The only way the two brothers can access money is through their Uncle Howard, a world-traveling big businessman, who is still deeply devoted to his sister, who is, of course, their Mum. When Howard demands a quid pro quo for helping the lads, they balk when they discover that they’ll have to kill the man who could put their uncle in prison.
Woody Allen has often gone into the dark place where murder, guilt and ambition reside — recently in Match Point and most memorably in Crimes and Misdemeanors. Perhaps he’s gone back to the same well of material one time too many. The audience is told countless times how much their Mother admires Howard; she’s always comparing him favourably to her safe “loser” of a husband. We get the point — just as we do when Colin Farrell’s Terry guiltily unravels all too quickly after helping in the murder. Where’s the comedy or at least the quick quips — which can and should exist even in this tale?
Cassandra’s Dream is too repetitive and didactic a piece to qualify as a challenging drama. Although some of the acting — Sally Hawkins is awkwardly charming as Kate and Ewan McGregor gives a star turn as Ian — nothing could save this uninspired Allen piece. Not even Scarlett Johansson — and that’s saying a lot!