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Cassandra's Dream

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/08/08 11:28:07

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3 stars (Average)

Woody Allen is a bitter old man, and has been for a while. As a young man, he looked at the world around him and laughed at the absurdity, but for the past decade or two his movies have all seemed to be about people being slapped down for daring to dream above their station. It's a bleak world-view, and "Cassandra's Dream" is the latest expression of it.

This year's poor fools are brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell); as the film opens, they're buying a boat that stretches their budget. Ian is smart but stuck managing the business of their father's restaurant due to Dad's ill health; Terry is a mechanic with a gambling problem. A run of good luck for Terry pays for the boat, but soon his luck changes. Ian, meanwhile, is misrepresenting himself to a pretty actress (Hayley Atwell). How can Terry get out of debt and Ian invest in the California resort he's planning? Well, they do have a rich uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who just happens to need a favor: If Martin Burns (Philip Davis) testifies in an investigation into Howard's business dealings, he'll be ruined. If only some desperate men could remove him.

That's not a bad story, and Cassandra's Dream isn't a bad movie. It's also not a very active movie; it spends a long first act setting up a situation where Ian and Terry need money and much of the rest on hand-wringing. A good chunk of the film's second half is Terry saying he doesn't feel good about this and Ian replying they have no choice, getting progressively louder and more insistent as the film continues. The mechanics of the story are rather straightforward, making for a rather mild thriller.

It does work better as a character piece. None of the characters are exactly complicated, but the cast pours everything they can into their roles. Colin Farrell makes for a likable working stiff; his Terry is a flawed character who manages to avoid becoming too much an object of pity or disdain. McGregor doesn't get to play quite so broad a range of emotions, but does convey the feeling of being trapped, if often in a box of his own making. Wilkinson's Howard is a more desperate devil than usually makes these deals, but he's pretty good; we believe he's vulnerable to Burns's accusations but also powerful enough to have Terry and Ian cowed. Hayley Atwell and Sally Hawkins are nice complements as Kate and Angela, the women in their lives. John Benfield and Clare Higgins are an appropriately abrasive team as their parents, who strongly disagree on the subject of Howard.

That's all to be expected; if Woody Allen has had one consistent skill over the years, it's getting good performances out of his cast. It's the writing that comes up short here. A trailer for this movie comes very close to telling the whole story, and as good as the cast is at making the characters feel like real people, they're real people whose trajectories are all too predictable. The details we see often aren't that interesting, either - when we see Terry lose at poker or Ian grow jealous of Angela, it's just what they do, rather than a case where the way they do it gives us some insight into their particular characters. And maybe I've grown too sensitive to (and not fond of) Allen's recently-recurrent theme of being happy with what you have and where you are, but he hammers it pretty incessantly.

None of this really makes "Cassandra's Dream" a bad movie, but it's far from an exceptional one. Woody Allen is in a rut, and I really wish he could get out of it.

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