January 31, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

Trust us - this is a Woody Allen movie, so
something funny should happen any minute now

Grade: C +
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Tom Wilkinson, and Philip Davis
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

After years stuck in the romantic comedy rut, Cassandra’s Dream is Woody Allen’s latest in a lineage that dates back to Crimes and Misdemeanors, which begat last year’s Match Point. It is also the third leg of his quasi-British revival period (following Match Point and Scoop) Unfortunately, if Allen’s newest is any indication, his most recent trends’ half-lives will be significantly shorter than his first. Critics falling over themselves to praise Allen’s “minimalism” and “directorial efficiency” ignore the plain fact that if anyone other than Woody Allen made this film, those same critics would transpose such adjectives as “boring” and “amateurish" into their reviews. Cassandra’s Dream is not a bad movie – it is simply an irrelevant one.

Dig no deeper than the film’s title to glean not only Allen’s penchant for mythology but, more pointedly, his fondness for hollow metaphors. At least the character Cassandra in Allen’s Pygmalion-inspired Mighty Aphrodite gets to exclaim, “I see disaster; I see catastrophe; Worst, I see lawyers!” Cassandra’s Dream simply refers to the name of a sailboat purchased jointly by working-class brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell). Terry works as an auto mechanic and squanders his meager income on booze and poker games, while Ian manages his father’s London-based restaurant with an eye on bolting to California to chase fortune with his sultry, money-obsessed actress girlfriend, Angela (Hayley Atwell).

When Terry amasses a substantial gambling debt, the brothers approach their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), an expatriate plastic surgeon immersed in nefarious financial dealings. Howard agrees to get Terry out of hock and fund Ian’s shaky Cali land deal if the boys will knock-off a former business associate turned whistle-blower (Philip Davis).

A pervasive staginess makes this entire production feel like it belongs in the Old Vic more than a movie theater. Moreover, an air of laziness creeps into Allen’s script; e.g., Ian and Terry constantly refer to each by their first names during casual conversations – no one talks that way, suggesting both a mistrust of the audience’s ability to follow along and (perhaps more likely) Allen’s need for verbal bookmarks so he can keep up with which character is speaking at any given point in his own screenplay.

McGregor and Farrell’s performances vacillate madly from scene to scene: sometimes sublime, sometimes overcooked, and sometimes looking as though they are reading off cue cards. The lovely Atwell and the rest of the female cast are given little to do. Only Wilkinson acquits himself well, cutting a textured turn out of narrative whole-cloth sans the clownish gimcracks that dominate his Oscar-nominated role in Michael Clayton.

Philip Glass’ score – the first specifically written for an Allen film – is typical ethereal Glass, but it also enhances otherwise mundane scenes into ones where you find yourself anticipating a payoff that never fully arrives. Match Point proved that Allen still has some tricks up his sleeve; Cassandra’s Dream shows that he can still forget to shuffle the deck.

Neil Morris

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