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Dustin Putman

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Cassandra's Dream  (2008)
1 Stars
Directed by Woody Allen
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Tom Wilkinson, John Benfield, Clare Higgins, Phil Davis, Ashley Madekwe, Jim Carter, David Horovitch, Cate Fowler, Tom Fisher.
2008 – 108 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 19, 2008.
In recent years, Woody Allen's career has become a hit-and-miss affair, with decided emphasis being placed on the latter. The first half of this decade was a particularly dire period for the prolific writer-director, who went into an uninspired rut with 2001's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," 2002's "Hollywood Ending," 2003's "Anything Else," and 2005's "Melinda and Melinda." His last two releases—2005's "Match Point" and 2006's "Scoop"—were his strongest two since 2000's bitingly underappreciated "Small Time Crooks," the use of new muse Scarlett Johansson seemingly reinvigorating his scripts, style and storytelling. For Allen's latest, Johansson is nowhere to be found, and neither are any detectable signs of life. A murder drama that embarrassingly rips off Allen's own "Match Point" while getting wrong everything that Hitchcockian effort did right, "Cassandra's Dream" is dismaying to behold. Oh, how far the great have fallen.

Blue-collar siblings Ian (Ewan McGregor), a steady-headed restaurant manager, and Terry (Colin Farrell), a mechanic, are always in search of schemes to strike it rich. When both run into sticky financial spots—Ian doesn't have the money to jumpstart the chain of hotels he wants to own in Los Angeles, while Terry's gambling debts go through the roof—they turn to their well-off, well-liked, just-visiting Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) for help. Howard agrees to assist in their money woes, but on one condition; Ian and Terry must agree to do away with Martin Burns (Phil Davis), a colleague of Howard's with the knowledge to finger him in an impending finance investigation.

Named after a small sailboat that Ian and Terry purchase together, "Cassandra's Dream" is a commonplace and lackadaisical thriller that, just like "Match Point," culminates in a murder, an attempted cover-up and mounting feelings of paranoia and guilt on the part of the perpetrator. The main difference between the two, aside from their contrasting payoffs, is in the treatment of the material. Whereas "Match Point" was taut, fresh and absorbing, "Cassandra's Dream" is contrived, implausible and tonally confused (though a drama, the film earns a number of out-of-place laughs). The central premise is not to be believed for a second, and the way Uncle Howard abruptly requests to Ian and Terry that they commit murder for him is awkward and strained. From this point on, Ian and Terry cease being actual people and resort to cheap script constructs whose actions and thoughts are dictated by the requirements of the plot. They, along with the film, are paperweight creations who feature few, if any, purely honest moments.

Performances have always been a strong suit in any Woody Allen picture, but they are curiously off here. In lieu of naturalism, they hold a stilted theatrical quality that would only have worked on a stage. As anti-heroic leads Ian and Terry, Ewan McGregor (2005's "The Island") is cold and detached, while Colin Farrell (2006's "Miami Vice") is a little better as the more conscience-heavy brother. As the main squeezes in their lives, both of whom have no idea of their criminal extracurricular activities, newcomer Hayley Atwell is pretty but decidedly vacant as determined actress Angela, and Sally Hawkins (2005's "Layer Cake") is adequate but thankless as the concerned and supportive Kate. The shiniest turn is given, unfortunately, by a side player; Ashley Madekwe steals her early scenes as Lucy, a co-worker and potential love interest for Ian, but she disappears midway through never to be seen again. Tom Wilkinson (2007's "Michael Clayton") is wasted as the controlling Uncle Howard.

"Cassandra's Dream" is a movie stuck on auto-pilot, and it's a shame. Instead of rushing his screenplays into production, Woody Allen should be sure that they are in a condition worth translating to the screen. In this case, it was not, and the film suffers from being overly familiar, threadbare and emotionally flat. The ending, intended, one supposes, to be something Greek tragedies are made of, is as labored and artificial as the rest of it. "Cassandra's Dream" is like a dream, all right—a bad one, made by an aging filmmaker who, sadly, simply doesn't have the same magic he once did.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman