Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell
Studio/Running Time: The Weinstein Company, 110 mins.
Despite the absence of Woody Allen’s current muse Scarlett Johansson, Cassandra’s Dream works as a fitting conclusion
to his London trilogy in terms of both narrative and theme. As such, the primary concern is once again murder, with the brothers Ian (Ewen McGregor)and Terry (Colin Farrell) enlisted by their uncle Howard to kill a business associate whose court testimony could put Howard in prison. Because both brothers need the uncle’s help financially, they go through with the job, but when Terry’s conscience brings him to the edge of confession, Ian and Howard begin discussing if he too begs removal.
While Match Point is a severe drama and Scoop an outright comedy, Cassanda’s Dream rests somewhere in the middle. The seriousness of the family’s crime is underscored by subtle jokes about theater, life, money and other standard Allen tropes. Rather than focusing on verbal pyrotechnics as per the director's usual style, though, here the jokes are more subtle and situational. Terry’s spiraling guilt always brings the film back to reality, but these self-aware moments of humor are beneficial since ultimately the plot is a little bent on cliché. As a result, Cassandra’s Dream ends up somewhere between comedy and drama in the vein of mid-career Hitchcock—occasionally suspenseful, occasionally funny, but mostly entertaining.
Likely because Allen has spent so many years re-writing the same persona, it’s easy to overlook how interesting he creates his characters. Ian and Terry function as twin mirrors, but because they’re fleshed out, this feels far less like a Melinda and Melinda-esque formal experiment and more like an investigation into truly different ways of dealing with life. Although at times the film's dialogue sounds off for working-class London, it still feels right as far as human interactions go.
The cinematography is beautiful, the music is hypnotically scored by Philip Glass and the staging is as impeccable as the rest of Allen’s oeuvre; the main charge against the film is that for all it does right, it’s still not particularly deep. Then again, this is far more satisfying than the inverse. Cassandra’s Dream is by no means a masterpiece, but Allen has enough of those to not push himself every time out of the gate. Taken for what it is, and without hoping for another Match Point or Crimes and Misdemeanors, Cassandra’s Dream is a fine genre film that succeeds at what it attempts, even if it doesn’t attempt all that much.