Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell Director: Woody Allen
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
What would you do to help your brother, your favorite uncle, yourself? Lie? No problem. Scheme? It's my middle name. Kill? Well, that's gonna cost ya. Woody Allen's 2007 enjoyable suspense drama "Cassandra's Dream" follows the plight of two working class Londoners, brothers Terry (better than you may think Colin Ferrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor cast as the level-headed sibling), who find themselves behind a financial eight ball. The brothers are offered a risky way out that could either fulfill their dreams or turn their lives into an ongoing nightmare.
Inveterate gambler Terry works as a mechanic and lives with Kate (the delightfully spunky Sally Hawkins). Ian works at their father�s restaurant, but is making plans to invest in hotels across the pond in California. Terry has a hot streak at the dog track and at the poker table. The brothers decide to blow their winnings on a sailboat, which they christen �Cassandra�s Dream,� in honor of the pup that provided Terry with his big payday. One afternoon Ian borrows a Jaguar from Terry�s garage for an afternoon of sailing with a girl from work. On the way back to London they pass a beautiful woman whose car has broken down. Ian helps the woman, Angela Stark, an actress (stiff Hayley Atwell, miscast as an actress!) who invites him to her next performance. Ian pursues the high maintenance hottie until she falls in love with him. Meeting Angela further ignites his desire to invest in the hotel venture. But Terry�s luck at poker deserts him, leaving him 90,000 pounds in debt to people who aren�t interested in �I�ll get it to you later� as an excuse. The brothers have no recourse but to go to their Uncle Howard (a very unsteady Tom Wilkinson) for the money. Uncle Howard will give them the money, if his nephews agree to handle some �business� for him. He wants Terry and Ian to get rid of Martin Burns, a business partner working with the feds whose testimony could send him to jail.
The brother weigh the consequences, particularly Terry, who�s convinced no good will come from offing Burns. Despite their reservations, the brother�s agree to the deal. In a stroke of irony (and Allen pushing the boundries of believability) Angela takes Ian, Terry and Kate to a swanky cast party where Terry meets intended target Burns and finds him to be a friendly, likeable man, furthering Terry�s fear that killing him is wrong: �I can�t look him in the eye and kill him.�
Terry makes two disposable zip guns for the hit. The brothers break into Burns� home, their resolve waning as they lay in wait for their victim.
Terry: What if there�s a God, Ian. What if all those nights we used to lie awake in the dark and curse the fate of every human soul, what if we was too angry?
Ian: Don�t turn your back on what you know in your heart to be true just because we�re facing a difficult task.
Burns unexpectedly brings home a guest. Figuring they�ll have to kill her as well, the amateur assassins lose their nerve and flee.
The following night Terry and Ian track Burns to his mother�s house. Terry insists they wait until Burns has had the chance to see his 91 year-old mother one last time before they kill him. Tension between the brothers rises as they wait for their quarry. They track Burns to a deserted street. Following the loud report of their homemade guns, the deed is done.
The aftermath and consequences of the brother�s act is what makes �Cassandra� dreamy. Will the brothers get away with it, or will Terry�s prophecy come true? The slam bang ending neatly ties Ian and Terry�s fates together.
�Cassandra�s Dream� may falter a bit in spots, but you can�t blame the soundtrack. From the opening credits, Philip Glass� dramatic score notifies the viewer when a crucial moment is about to occur. Glass� score is sometimes as subtle as a smack of Thor�s hammer on the noggin, but gives the movie a sense of Hitchcockian style and respectability.
There�s one obvious machination Woody Allen employs that I did not like in the least. In interviews about the film, Colin Farrell was quoted as saying he did more takes for one scene in �Miami Vice� than he did for the entire film. In some ways committing less than perfect takes adds to the film�s realism; after all people mumble, stare down at their toes and stammer when they�re nervous. Just don�t show me a finished film where they do it. In one scene, Tom Wilkinson gets so involved in his character�s emotional turmoil he stutters out his lines like a jammed sewing machine: �I have made some very difficult decisions to avoid being ruined! I was aware when I made them that I was having�that I was making some kind of risk!�
Okay, so having a character falter under pressure makes the dialogue sound more �real.� It�s also makes Wilkinson look like an under rehearsed moron. There aren�t a lot of scenes where a virbal bottleneck was kept in, but McGregor has a few Porky Pig moments too. Cut! Take two! I know you wanted to keep the costs down, Woody, but spending an extra buck fifty on film to reshoot a few scenes wouldn�t have hurt.
The flubs would actually be cool if the entire picture was shot that way. Leaving a few scattered scenes in their tattered form just says �I�m sloppy and I don�t care.� Wilkinson suffers the most. When he�s able to remember all his lines, his Uncle Howard comes across as a power broker trying to mask a cold heart. When he sputters and flounders it weakens the character, detracting from Uncle Howard�s powerful aura.
Cheers to Colin Farrell. The smarmy ladies man pulls off an acting coo by playing against his playboy persona. Terry is a good guy with some bad recreational habits and no stomach for violence. Watching Farrell decend into consuming guilt as he chain smokes, swills hootch, simpers, grows a three days beard and paints pictures of imminent doom should dispel any notions that this guy can�t act. (And believe me, I was one of those people with a notion or two.)
Cheers to you too, Ewan McGregor. Like Farrell�s Terry, McGregor�s Ian is a good man who makes a bad decision. It�s Ian�s capacity to live with that mistake that makes his character equally fascinating. I�ve seen my share of flicks where actors go against type to show that, well they�re actors (for example, the recently reviewed �Before the Devil Knows You�re Dead�), but it doesn�t work if it�s too much of a stretch. (Try picturing Mr. All American, Ronald Regan, as a violent, Angie Dickenson-smacking villain. He was, in his last film, 1964�s �The Killers.�) McGregor breaks the mold because he makes us believe it�s not inconceivable that there�s someone like Ian out there who�s so desperately in love and wants to get ahead that he�ll entertain taking someone else�s life.
The screen lights up whenever Sally Hawkins is in a scene. She portrays Kate as vivacious and very cockney, a woman who�s aware of her social shortcomings, yet remains loving and optimistic. Kate is the type of hard-working, pugnacious, honest woman you couldn�t help but fall in love with or befriend. Hawkins has a bright, endearing smile and a sunny/serious side that fleshes out her character.
Hayley Atwell has the misfortune of playing Angela Stark, a shallow actress. It�s not hard to see why Ian would fall in love with her. What�s difficult to understand how he could stay in love with her. Angela is such a self-absorbed bed hopper that when she finally professes her love for him, he doesn�t quite believe her and you won�t either. Ice just doesn�t melt so easily. Angela isn�t a likeable character, and her shortcomings help taint Atwell�s rigid performance. She walks through her scenes detached with off-putting flaky superiority that would offend Thurston Howell III. At first I thought, okay, that�s what she�s supposed to do; her character is a status seeking snob. But since she�s playing an actress, you�d think she�d shine in the scenes when Ian is watching her on stage. That should be the one place where Angela should come to life. But Atwell is even more limp in her stage scenes, which leads me to conclude that Atwell isn�t that good an actress.
I watched Tom Wilkinson give a semi-salvagable performance in �Dedication,� a heinous waste of film. Wilkinson�s rep has been enchanced by a supposedly good performance in �Michael Clayton� (which I haven�t seen) and as Ben Franklin in HBO� �John Adams� (ditto). Because Wilkinson has a few scenes where he�s obviously searching for his lines and stammering, I�m inclined to say Tom should turn in his SAG card. His performance is a head-shaker. At times he sounds like a forgetful amateur, and at other times you admire his focused intensity. His bumbling drains the pivotal scene in which he strikes up a deal with his nephews to the point where it looks as he belongs on a Dick Clark blooper reel. In his final scene with McGregor, Wilkinson is a knot of tensed resolution, and he�s able to convincingly illustrate his character�s intended villainous intent.
Woody was right to set the action in London. You get the subtle nuances of English behavior (such having a state of conscience) you wouldn�t get if the characters were from Philly or New York. It�d be badda bing badda bang, Mr. Burns is toast without an afterthought. Allen once made movies that made me laugh (although the last one was �Take the Money and Run�), and I still think that�s where his strength as a filmmaker lies. You may not like the long arm of justice ending, but I think you�ll agree it�s the performances of Ferrell, McGregor and Sally Hawkins that make �Cassandra� dreamy.