Cassandra’s Dream (2007): Minor Film from Woody Allen, Starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell

Even by standards of Woody Allen’s recent work, “Cassandra’s Dream” would have to be considered a minor film, a pseudo-psychological thriller that can’t decide how seriously it wants to be taken.
Neither satisfying as a crime melodrama nor as a black comedy, the London-set “Cassandra’s Dream” is a morality play, decently acted by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell.

The film world-premiered (out of competition) at the Venice Film Festival, where Allen is very popular, and then played at Toronto Film Festival, in the Gala Presentations. The Weinstein Company will release the feature in late December, but I doubt whether many people will see it in theaters.

As noted in these columns before, at 72, Woody Allen seems to have run out of ideas for original films, and hence he rehashes old plots and characters from films he had seen in the 1950s and the 1960. Best marketing tool for this picture, the third in a row that Allen has made in UK, is its likable cast, Scottish Colin Farrell and Irish Ewan McGrgeor, sharing the screen for the first time as brothers. Never mind that they don’t look, sound, or act like siblings. Attractive as they are, both thespians can’t maintain a consistent working-class accent, which would not have been a problem if the story and its situations were more compelling.

After a brief retreat to comedy with “Scoop,” which was both an artistic and commercial flop, Allen returns to the wannabe taut Hitchcockian thriller genre, as he did with the better-executed film, “Match Point.” McGregor and Farrell play frustrated London dreamers who, wanting more out of their drab and miserable life, get embroiled in murder.

Unlike “Match Point” and “Scoop,” this is a low-key film with no American actors, in which the setting is no longer the upper-class and its rich and boring style, but one populated with ordinary Brits as its protagonists, a milieu that’s obviously unfamiliar to Allen the writer, because the observations he makes about it lack freshness and authenticity. The whole enterprise gives the impression of a quickly made flick, based on second-hand ideas.

The lingo doesn’t ring true, either. As if to compensate for this lack of credibility, Allen the director imposes on its yarn a fast clip that renders an aura of an exercise in an acting school, with Allen the teacher telling his actors, “faster, faster.” But for what purpose

McGregor and Farrell play Cockney brothers Ian and Terry Blaine, the sons of working-class parents (John Benfield and Clare Higgins), who live poor but dignified lives and dont show resentment over their station. A car mechanic, Terry lives with his loving girlfriend Kate (Sally Hawkins), but he is a chronic gambler who likes to drink, which often gets him into debts and trouble. Brother Ian, the seemingly more respectable of the pair, runs a restaurant with his father, but dreams about going to California and start his own business; despite the fact that he’s the older sibling, he still lives with his folks, which is rather bizarre.
We get the impression that the Blaines have benefited in various ways from the success and generosity of Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), because they always speak about him in awe “Uncle Howard did, Uncle Howard said in a manner that recalls Young Charlie (Teresa Wright) talking about her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) in Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt.”

Sharing camaraderie, the Blaines are close to each other. After winning at a dogs race, Terry buys a small yacht, which he labels “Cassandra’s Dream” (after the greyhound), where they spend quality time and dream about a better future.

The web of relationships begin to change, when Ian meets and falls for Angela (Hayley Atwell), an attractive, opportunistic actress, who would do anything to advance her career, though clearly she lacks real talent. Then Terry goes on a losing streak and ends up owing $180,000, with no clue of how to pay the debt.

Out of the blue, Uncle Howard happens to pass through London, and the boys ask for his help. Rather than just give his nephews the money they need, he asks for an “unusual” favor: Would they kill a business colleague named Martin Burns (Phil Davis), who threatens to speak out about his past and thus destroy him. The boys hesitate, argue and deliberate for a while, but then consent to do it.

Feature’s last reel shows the predictably disastrous results of the murder, particularly on Terry, who sinks into deep depression, drinks and takes medication at the same time, experiencing nightmares and even begin to talk in his sleep. (In a writing mistake that defies plausibility and logic, Allen even has Terry call the police and just hang up!)

As mentioned, neither McGregor nor Farrell carries on their conversations in a fast, unrealistic rhythm that reflects more Allen’s style than what the situations and characters call for. Since they occupy the majority of the story together, it doesn’t help that there’s not much chemistry between them; you keep noticing their sweat, their in-and-out roads into accomplishing the right diction and sustaining the increasingly macabre tone.

Supporting cast is stronger and more authentic, especially John Benfield and Clare Higgins as the Blaine parents, and the always reliable Tom Wilkinson as Uncle Howard, who nails his small part in two or three dramatic scenes.

Though watchable, the film lacks irony and depth, and at the end, you feel cheated because of its second-handedness. At least half a dozen scenes are set in theater, on and off stage, and I can easily see “Cassandra’s Dream” done as stage play or TV movie.

Most disappointing is the mediocre level of the production values, well below the standards of Allen’s previous British-set movies and those of the otherwise brilliant Vilmos Zsigmund, who had also shot Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda.”

Cast

Ian Blaine – Ewan McGregor
Terry Blaine – Colin Farrell
Angela Stark Hayley Atwell
Kate – Sally Hawkins
Uncle Howard – Tom Wilkinson
Mr. Blaine – John Benfield
Mrs. Blaine – Clare Higgins
Martin Burns – Phil Davis
Garage boss – Jim Carter
Angela’s father – David Horovitch
Angela’s mother – Cate Fowler
Nigel – Tom Fisher

Credits

A Weinstein Co. release (in U.S.) of a Virtual Films (U.S.)/Wild Bunch (France) presentation of an Iberville production for Wolverine Prods.
Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Gareth Wiley.
Executive producers: Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Daniel Wuhrmann.
Co-producers: Helen Robin, Nicky Kentish Barnes.
Co-executive producers: Jack Rollins, Charles H. Joffe.
Directed, written by Woody Allen.
Camera: Vilmos Zsigmond.
Editor, Alisa Lepselter.
Music: Philip Glass.
Production designer: Maria Djurkovic.
Art director, Nick Palmer.
Costume designer, Jill Taylor.

MPAA: R Rating.
Running time: 108 Minutes.