Review: “Cassandra’s Dream”

You can stick a fork in Woody Allen, he’s done. From 1975’s “Love and Death” through to 1994’s “Bullets over Broadway,” the nebbish Jewish New Yorker had an almost flawless resume as a filmmaker. Then the tide turned, the films became more trite and the magic he once had was gone.

2005’s “Match Point”, a smart London-based sexual thriller in which Allen for once never appeared on screen, seemed to herald a possible comeback for the helmer. 2006’s lackluster murder mystery comedy “Scoop” and more notably this tedious thriller seem only to cement the fact that ‘Match’ was a fluke. As much as ‘Scoop’ was inane, it did provide the odd laugh and its own charms (namely getting two of the world’s most beautiful actors in wet swimming costumes).

‘Dream’ on the other hand desperately tries to milk the more serious drama thriller territory that ‘Match’ and his earlier work “Crimes and Misdemeanors” did far more effectively. It fails simply because it’s inert – there’s no suspense or tension here, no atmosphere, no emotional engagement with the characters, no comic relief, a failed attempt at a romantic subplot, and no twists or original surprises whatsoever.

Ian (Ewan McGregor) is a mildly sleazy white-collar wheeler-dealer who plays himself up as he tries to fulfil his dream of moving to California and getting into real estate investment. His brother Terry (Colin Farrell unsuccessfully playing against type) on the other hand is a blue-collar mechanic saddled with gambling debts and a very anxious disposition.

Despite their differences, the pair are very close and both in need of some cash. They turn to their powerful uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson in the film’s only juicy role) who promises them the money if they do one thing for him – murder a competitor who has information that could destroy him. Upon carrying out the deed, Terry becomes so overwhelmed by guilt that Ian may have to consider doing him in as well if he’s to have the future he wants.

The story follows a very predictable and ultimately tragic trajectory, but you care very little because it’s so lifeless. Despite reams of dialogue being sprouted, the actors seem stuck with both lines and delivery so wooden they’re worthy of a “Star Wars” prequel. The proposition of the planned murder doesn’t occur until halfway through the film which makes the first half often quite tedious, whilst the second simply drags out the planning and the emotional wake of the death.

There’s no real moral quandary here short of the obvious one. The narcissistic Ian has a darker side that the scheme touches upon but never explores, leaving both the two brothers as quite flat characters despite the two roles taking 95% of the film’s screen time. Something this streamlined and predictable is more suited to the Hollywood studio machine, yet they at least seem to understand pacing, story beats and excitement far more than Allen does. He’s simply so much off the mark that one hopes he does do another film so that he doesn’t end on the whimper that is ‘Dream’.