Woody Allen is, at this point less of a director than he is a cinematic institution, the second longest running one after the James Bond series. Every time a Woody Allen movie comes out one has a fairly good idea of what to expect, even when he seems to deliberately hit one into left field. Few Woody Allen movies went as far into left field as 2005’s Match Point, a film that did feel like the work of the same auteur but was in no way a comedic work. His 2006 follow up, Scoop, made it seem like moving his location to Europe would be the only permanent change to Allen’s style. However his latest film, Cassandra’s Dream, is clearly a return to the subject matter and tone that made Match Point such a surprise.
The film is set again set in London and begins with two brothers buying a boat they intend to name Cassandra’s Dream. One of the brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor), has been working at his father’s restaurant for years, but plans to eventually leave when he has enough to invest in a California hotel chain. The other brother, Terry (Collin Farrell), works at a mechanic’s shop and has serious problems with gambling, alcoholism, and pill popping. Terry eventually finds himself over his head in gambling debt and Ian finds himself needing money fast in order to woo an actress he met named Angela (Hayley Atwell). In order to solve these problems the two go to their rich uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), but what he asks for in return is more than either bargained for.
Before I get into the pros and cons of the movie itself, allow me to vent about the Weinstein Companies botched distribution of the film. Woody Allen is supposed to put out one movie for every calendar year, that’s a sacred tradition, and Allen himself has lived up to his end of the bargain since 1982. Cassandra’s Dream was done early enough to have premiered at a festival in June of 2007, but for some greed inspired reason the Weinstein Company (kings of overly patient release schedules) held its American release until January of 2008. Thankfully, another distributor called On Pictures released the film in October of 2007 in Spain, so it could technically be considered a 2007 movie, but for all practical purposes the Weinstein’s screwed up an important tradition and should be punished for it, which is why I waited for the DVD release to see the movie.
Ultimately, Cassandra’s Dream has a very simple structure. It establishes two characters, puts them in an extreme situation and compares how the two characters react to it. The characters are not simple necessarily, but they aren’t wildly complex either and they develop in very predictable ways. The whole movie is rather predictable really, that’s just the nature of this type of morality play. When I say these things are simple it’s not necessarily a slight so much as a description.
This simple story is simply told as well. Woody Allen’s minimalist visual style is as evident as ever here. Reportedly this is the first Woody Allen film to include a score mixed in stereo; that should give you a clue as to how much Allen ever cares to innovate technologically. Of course as with every Allen film one shouldn’t mistake his lack of technical ambition as a lack of technical skill. Like Allen’s other films the technical elements here are all completely competent, just very simple.
Collin Farrell and Ewan McGregor are probably the film’s biggest problems. Neither is distractingly bad, but one gets the feeling that they may have been miscast. Throughout the film I began to think the movie would have been better served if they had switched roles, if Farrell were to be the aspiring playboy and had McGregor been the blue collar worker with flaws but a good heart. Tom Wilkinson also didn’t particularly impress me, it feels like he agreed to the small but vital part on a whim and sort of phoned it in on the set.
Cassandra’s Dream is a perfectly watchable and moderately interesting drama, though I was unsatisfied by its ending and looking back there was nothing really extraordinary about it at all. This probably represents what mid-range Woody Allen may look like in this new era of his career. In other words Cassandra’s Dream is to Match Point as Everyone Says I Love You is to Hannah and Her Sisters.
*** out of Four