Cassandra's Dream (United States/United Kingdom, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With Cassandra's Dream, we may finally be seeing confirmation of what many have suspected for years: that Woody Allen's period of greatness as a filmmaker is over. A few years ago, Match Point provided hope that we might be observing a re-invention of the director - that he was turning away from neurotic comedies to more weighty material. Match Point revisited Crimes and Misdemeanors, and did so in spectacular fashion. Now, in the wake of the complete failure of the would-be comedy Scoop, we have Cassandra's Dream, a movie that returns to the essence of Match Point like a dog to its vomit.

This is a lame psychological thriller with an obvious story trajectory. It's a wannabe film noir with no atmosphere whatsoever. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play brothers Ian and Terry - two men bound not only by blood but by friendship. They also both need money. Ian dreams of moving to California with his girlfriend (Hayley Atwell) and starting a business, and Terry is saddled by ever-growing gambling debts. Enter their wealthy, successful uncle, Howard (Tom Wilkinson). He promises them whatever they need if they'll do one "little favor" for him. A former colleague has information that could ruin Howard, and he needs to be "eliminated." Thus do Ian and Terry agree to become hitmen. Once the deed is complete, Ian is able to enjoy his life but Terry enters a guilt-fueled downward spiral.

The central theme of Cassandra's Dream is rather obvious: killing someone is not a deed undertaken lightly because of the scars it can leave. This isn't all that different from the core message of last year's revenge drama, The Brave One, but Neil Jordan's film hit with an impact that Woody Allen doesn't come close to. Cassandra's Dream is missing nearly every element that could make this a good movie. It's humorless and lifeless. The romance is flat and the "thriller" elements lack tension and excitement. The electric charge that made Match Point so suspenseful is absent. Everything (except perhaps the ending, which is tinged with irony) is predictable.

The casting is imperfect. Ewan McGregor, whose range seemingly knows no bounds (look at the impressive and varied list of directors he has collaborated with), is fine but Colin Farrell, playing against type, is woeful. His Terry isn't wounded and sympathetic; he's an irritating whiner. He's Matthew Lillard with a better chin and an accent. Hayley Atwell is sexy but doesn't show much in the way of range. Her best scenes are the ones with minimal dialogue. Tom Wilkinson is as wonderful as always; Cassandra's Dream might have been more watchable if he had been in a few additional scenes. As it is, he functions as more of a device to move the plot along than a real character.

One interesting aspect of the movie is the way that planning and committing the crime brings Ian to life. At one point, he remarks to Terry, "I think I know how you feel when you're facing a big hand." Unfortunately, this psychological insight is largely abandoned as the screenplay turns its focus to Terry's emotional collapse. The moral ambiguity of Match Point - one of that film's most tangible assets - is missing here. Cassandra's Dream has a conventional outlook, and it's not especially interesting.

One has to wonder whether Allen, seeing how Match Point was lauded and Scoop derided, set out consciously to replicate the former film. Whether intentional or not, Cassandra's Dream feels like a false echo, a failed and somewhat sad attempt to recapture a recent glory (the only film of Allen's in perhaps the last 15 years that critics have praised). We see a lot of movies like this every year - they're a dime a dozen. It's just that most of them don't come from respected veteran directors like Woody Allen.

Cassandra's Dream (United States/United Kingdom, 2007)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Tom Wilkinson, Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Music: Philip Glass
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2008-01-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1