Cassandra's Dream **1/2
Woody Allen is back with "Cassandra's Dream," a film which I wanted to see at the Toronto Film Festival last year, but was unable to get a ticket. My anticipation was shot down some by the audience reaction at the festival, and it only got worse when the movie was bumped from its end of 2007 release and shafted to the dull and dreary month of January. I still went in with expectation, considering that Woody Allen is one of my favorite film makers. This is once again Woody trying something new, and is a far distance from his last film "Scoop." Taking its cues from the "Match Point" drama, Woody has crafted a rather effective and often entertaining film noir thriller, but it doesn't ever engage you or satisfy you as much as the great "Match Point" did- that film made my ten best of 2005, on the side.
Woody did assemble a fine cast here, and the three lead actors-Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, and the always terrific and welcome Tom Wilkinson make up most of the drama, along with two rather unknown British actresses Hayley Atwood (who is your typical Woody Allen leading lady), and Sally Hawkins. McGregor and Farrell play brothers Ian and Terry, both of them down on their luck, but honest, men living in London. Ian is the brains of the group, working in a restaurant with his father but dreaming of bigger things- including a possible business venture involving California hotels. Changing women quicker than his shirts (a line stolen from McGregor's 2003 film 'Down with Love"), Ian meets the lovely Angela, and the two of them begin their affair. On the side, Terry is a mechanic who has bigger plans for his live in girlfriend Kate, until he owes 90,000 pounds in a gambling debt. The two of them need money to get on in life, and they decide to ask their Uncle Howard (Wilkinson) for an advance. He makes a deal with them, being in need himself. Howard has made a life in business ventures and he is extremely wealthy, but it hasn't been a completely honest trip. Under review, there is a man who can put him away for a long time, and Howard asks his nephews to eliminate him.
This is the setup, and the rest of the film follows the crime and the aftermath on the two brothers. It reminded me quite a bit of last year's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," only without the nonlinear method of storytelling. Allen's script is clever with dialogue, as always, and he has his fun with the socialite types- something he is very familiar with. And as entertaining as this story was, it certainly isn't one of his more memorable ventures, and this is a very minor work. But so what? Does he has to make a masterpiece everything time he goes behind the camera? Is it so difficult to just want to tell an entertaining yarn? That is what "Cassandra's Dream" ends up being- a thriller to enjoy for two hours. He does touch upon a few interesting subtexts with the characters, but doesn't do as much with them as he could have. For example, Ian gets the same thrills from killing and planning the kill as Terry got from card playing, and that does have a lot to do with what goes on in the final act, but the script could have done more with it.
All of the acting is just fine, including Farrell, who never really interested me before. Farrell is playing somewhat against type, not the tough guy that he normally is, but a man who second guesses himself all the time, and is paranoid that something will go wrong at all aspects of his life. Wilkinson doesn't get as much screen time as I wish he could have, and he really acts as a plot device. All of his scenes move the story forward, but we really don't get to explore more of this seedy businessman character- the type of person that McGregors Ian could surely become if he continues with his plans. Atwood has the sex appeal of classic actresses that Allen goes for, and Hawkins is quite good too.
What does not pack quite the punch Allen probably expected was the ending- especially the final ten minutes or so of the film. I do like the ending- at least the ending if someone explained to me how this film ended. But Allen rushes the climax and resolution of this film, as if he got bored with telling the story of Ian and Terry and he just wanted to end it. It's rushed to the point where it looses the haunting quality that it could have had. The final scene in "Match Point" gives me the chills when I watch it, despite Allen bending a few rules of possibly story lines to get to it. But so what? It's entertaining! The ending of "Cassandra's Dream" could have given me the chills if Allen gave it a little more time, and let it unfold in a more slow way, especially since the whole film ends up being set up to the conclusion, including the quite obvious foreshadowing at the start. The brothers buy a boat, name it Cassandra's Dream because the horse Terry won the money with to pay for the boat was named that, and then says "We'll name it that! It's our lucky name!"
As for Allen- some say that he will never reach the golden age of his "Annie Hall," "Manhattan," days. But to me it doesn't really matter. Even a mediocre Woody Allen film still ends up being a very good one, and he certainly knows how to tell a story, comedy or drama. I have found enjoyment in the films people say are his worsts-"The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,' "Hollywood Ending," "Anything Else," "Melinda and Melinda," and even "Scoop" are all perfectly adequate comedies, and "Match Point" was somewhat of a revelation for him. Certainly they aren't the greatest films in the world compared to the Allen of old, but does it really matter? Can't he make a few entertaining yarns in the final years of his career? I still look forward to the yearly Woody Allen, and will continue doing so.