Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell
Release date: Jan 18, 2008
“You can’t control life. It doesn’t wind up perfectly.” —Sandy Bates from Stardust Memories
“If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie.” —Judah Rosenthal from Crimes And Misdemeanors
“People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control.” —Christopher Wilton from Match Point
Cassandra’s Dream: Getting Away With It Again
Cassandra’s Dream can be seen as the final film in a trilogy of films that began with Crimes and Misdemeanors and continued with Match Point. The three revolve around characters getting away with terrible crimes. While not an official trilogy, the themes that Woody Allen examines in each of these films includes some of his best work. Just as the theme of vengeance linked Chan-wook Park’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, there is a continuous theme that binds all three of Mr. Allen’s films together. Make no mistake about it: Cassandra’s Dream is just as unsettling as the previous films. Match Point must have felt like sweet vindication for Woody Allen — a critical and modest commercial success that reminded many of his long-time fans that he was still very much in the game. As in, Match Point, Woody Allen does not appear in the film, but like all of his films, his surrogate does. I will leave it to you to decide who his alter ego is in this film — more on that later.
Woody Allen makes one film a year; his output is incredible. He has had his share of great highs and mighty lows, but the incredible thing is that he is always able to get financing for his films. He says that financing is the hardest part of making a film; but it seems that it is not much of a problem for him. Many have been envious of his prodigious output and the relative ease he manages it. The volume of his work is too vast to analyze here and the films I have mentioned are very good in their own right. His truly great films hold up very well — Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters have only gotten better with age. His early comedies, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid Ask, Sleeper, Bananas, Love And Death, and Take The Money And Run, still provide a good amount laughs decades later. Husbands And Wives was timely for its rawness and honesty — art imitating the very real lives of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. The film was a cinematic confession from Woody Allen — surely it was not the first and by no means the last confession. His films have become more honest. He has let down his guard over the years to show us what is on his mind.
Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor play Terry and Ian, two brothers who live in South London. Terry works in a garage while Ian helps run his father’s faltering restaurant. Terry spends his time off gambling on dog races and poker, while Ian has bigger dreams. He wants to make it big in the real estate business. They are both good boys who have never been successful in anything. The two brothers manage to buy a boat in the beginning of the film and name it Cassandra’s Dream. The boat serves as an escape from the real world. The two actors play their parts well. You could say this is variation of Sidney Lumet’s masterful Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. Woody Allen takes his characters into harrowing Greek-tragic dimensions just as Lumet does in his film. It is hard not to compare McGregor and Farrell to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Although Woody Allen’s dark side is much different than Lumet’s. As the film progresses, it is easy to see that McGregor’s Ian has a lot in common with Hoffman’s Andrew Hanson. Yet, Ian is way too likable to be compared to Andrew Hanson. Hanson was a monster of epic proportions who destroyed everything around him. Ian’s range of damage is not so far reaching.
There are enough similarities to see why Cassandra’s Dream was pushed back to January of this year. It would have been a mistake to release it so close to Lumet’s film. One of the major similarities is the brothers are strapped for cash just like the Hanson brothers. Terry has lost too much money playing cards. Ian is a gambler of a different kind. He has met a beautiful woman by accident. One day while returning from an outing on their boat, Ian and his date stop to help Angela (Hayley Atwell) whose car has broken down. Needless to say, the thunderbolt has hit Ian. She is an aspiring actress in London. She is also outside of his class. He has made promises to her that he can connect her to powerful people in Hollywood through his wealthy uncle.
The very wealthy and successful uncle, Howard, is played by Tom Wilkinson. We learn a lot about Howard before we meet him. He is their mother’s very successful brother who has helped their family stay afloat by sending his sister money. He is the true provider for the family. Howard is a very successful plastic surgeon in the United States. When he comes to visit the family, the boys ask him for help. Howard is more than happy to help them out financially, but he asks them to do him a favor. It is a favor that will turn these good boys into tragic characters. Howard is more of a plot point than a character. He is thrown into the film as means to push Terry and Ian toward their destinies. Howard is an awkward, but necessary character in the film. His troubles in the states reveal the great Balzac quote:
“Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.”
The performances in the film are impressive. Ewan McGregor is fine as Ian. McGregor has screen presence. He works very well in bigger films as well as smaller films. I never doubted for a minute that he could be Colin Farrell’s brother in this film. Hayley Atwell is decent as Angela, but she does not have the same dynamic energy as Scarlett Johansson’s Nola Rice in Match Point. Johansson was a sexual valkyrie in that film. Tom Wilkinson serves more as a device than a character, but a very effective device. It would be very hard for him to top his masterful performance as Arthur Edens in Michael Clayton. As Terry, Colin Farrell has never been better. With each role, Farrell gets more and more comfortable. Here he steals the film from everyone else. While I liked him in Tigerland, Intermission, The New World, Ask The Dust, At Home In The End Of The World, and Phone Booth, I feel he really shines as Terry. For Farrell, it is a triumph on every level. It compliments what he has done before, but takes him to a new level. Farrell makes Terry a very realistic character. We care very much about him and feel for him. It is very hard to watch him sink under the pressures of Howard’s favor.
The film benefits from a wonderful and haunting musical score by Philip Glass. The music underscores the ominous tone the film takes in the second half. Vilmos Zsigmond continues to make everything look as good as possible. Woody Allen’s London looks very much like a movie made city just like his New York — a much insulated view of the world. London has served Woody Allen very well. It has become a very nice substitute for his beloved New York City. I never thought I would live to say this, but Woody Allen feels very much at home in London. I never thought he would ever make a film outside of New York City.
Cassandra’s Dream continues a winning streak for Woody Allen. The film also continues Allen’s honest look at morality in his characters and perhaps himself. In the films he does not act in, he has surrogates, especially in his comedies: Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity or Christina Ricci in Anything Else. Granted Mr. Allen is in Anything Else, but Ricci is as neurotic as they come in that film. In his darker films, especially this unofficial trilogy of films, he has three surrogates that may show Mr. Allen’s darker side: Martin Landau in Crimes And Misdemeanors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point, and Tom Wilkinson in Cassandra’s Dream. Each of these characters gets away with something sinister. I have a lot of respect for Woody Allen as a filmmaker. In these films, he has taken a daring and bold stance. Crimes And Misdemeanors and Match Point demonstrate an affinity for randomness and chance. Cassandra’s Dream is an unsettling confession from your favorite uncle. After watching the film, you realize that maybe everything you always wanted to know about Woody Allen, but were afraid to ask, was the right approach to take.