Cassandra's Dream
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Cassandra's Dream

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After years of working a given job many men find they have to make a change. For most this may come as a result of downsizing or retirement. In the film industry it is not an infrequent thing for people to shift their professions. Actors want to direct and directors want to act. In the case of someone like Clint Eastward he went from an A list actor to an Academy Awarding wining director. For Woody Allen there have been many job changes in his life. He started as a stand up comedian and moved to films as a successful writer, actor and director of such comedy classics as ‘Bananas’, ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Annie Hall’. In more recent years he has made the move away from his comedy roots and branched out into more serious films. Many would say that this was when his long and illustrious career jumped the shark. His latest film to be released on DVD, ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ is often sited as an example of this downward trend. It is snot a bad film at all; it is just that it could have been a lot better. Allen has paid his cinematic dues and should be applauded for the courage to make such a radial shift in his artist direction even if this movie will never be listed among his greatest hits. This flick is a crime thriller, a difficult genre too master even for a writer and director well versed in this type of film. For the past two decades or so Allen has moved from straight comedy to romantic comedies and even a few dramatic comedies. There is a comic aspect to this film but it just doesn’t come off as a film that is supposed to be funny on any level.

While Allen is a master class writer and director several factors outside his influence seemed to have conspired against this film. Most significant is it was released about the same time as the Sidney Lumet film ‘Before the Devil Knows You're Dead’ which has basically the same story. That film had a major advantage since Lumet has for a long time been a cinematic master of the crime thriller and has a vast store of experience in crafting such a movie. This only served to provide a comparison as to how a film like this should have been made. Without Lumet’s film along side Allen’s ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ might have come off better. Both films are concerned with sibling rivalry and desperate financial situations leading them to crime as a solution. Allen’s film was not able to measure up to telling the story and ultimately fell short. It is not always fair to compare two films but the subject matter and release dates seem to make sure a comparison reasonable. Allen tries too many deviations from his usual format and tries too hard to experiment with his art form. The usual Allen film is populated with witty, urbane characters often in a large American city like New York or Los Angles. In Dream he focuses on lower working class men in England. Allen’s inherent wit and sensibilities are like a fish out of water with this story. He has been trending away from American settings with films like ‘Match Point’ so the location here is no surprise. The change in the social status of the protagonist is something that Allen has to work on. His dialogue for these characters just doesn’t ring true in the ears of the audience. There are still comic elements in this film but they fail too flow naturally and almost seem contrived. Watching this film it was difficult to differentiate the intended laughs from the unintentional. It just didn’t feel like comedy was supposed to be part of the presentation of the story. In this tale of brothers in crime Allen employs the standard three act approach to the story. The first act is the set up. It shows how the brothers try to ascend above their class restrictions only to find they are deeper in debt than ever. Next comes the plotting of the crime that will supposedly resolve all their problems. If course things go terribly awry and the third act depicts the consequences for those actions.

The film is about two brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) who live in the south side of London. This is a typical working class neighbor far from any hopes of riches. Their father (John Benfield) owned and operated a restaurant along with his wife (Clare Higgins). Mom almost always dominated Dad who meekly allowed her to walk all over him. The one success story in the family was their uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who became a wealthy and successful businessman. Terry works as a mechanic which provides an income ill suited to his perchance for gambling. One day at a dog race ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ comes in on a 60 to 1 long shot and Terry is in the dough. The brothers decide to use the winnings to buy a sail boat and name it after the winning canine. After an afternoon on the boat with their respective girl friends Ian is driving home in a borrowed Jaguar and meets a beautiful young woman, Angela Stark (Hayley Atwell). He immediately falls in love and naturally since he has a boat and a fancy car she thinks he is far above hiss true station in life. Ian wants to find a way to actually better his lot in life and wants to invest in a hotel in California. In the meantime Terry is still in far more debt than his meager salary can handle; the men who he owes the money to tend to compound the fractures instead of the interest. A light goes off when rich Uncle Howard comes to town for his sister’s birthday; they can get the money they need from him. Howard has a much darker purpose in his visit than celebrating his sister’s natal day. He is about to go to jail on charges of financial misconduct. The main witness for the case is Howard’s former business partner Martin Burns (Philip Davis). Howard offers a deal to Ian and Terry. If they permanently take care of Burns he will give them the money they need. Of course it should come as no surprise that the brothers are complete bunglers and not suited for the task of murder. The end of the movie is one of the biggest departure from a typical Allen flick; moody to the point f being depressing.

Allen certain has retained his ability to attract A List actors to his films. Both McGregor and Farrell are accomplished performers at the top of their game. However here they seem somewhat out of place. Farrell tries playing against his usually bad boy persona as the befuddled and hapless Terry. He is too dynamic for a role like this. McGregor does better as the more level headed of the two. Allen’s direction here uses many of the techniques he had in the past. He is a quick paced director well known for using only one take for a given scene. This does add some energy and freshness to the film and helps out a lot in selling it to the audience. The DVD release is from the Weinstein Company in conjunction with Genius Pictures. This is a plain vanilla releases with no extras. The video is well done with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The audio is Dolby stereo. It is not a bad pop corn movie but it just makes fans wish that Allen would return to his former greatness.

Posted 05/22/08

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