Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen) 2007

Production Budget: $10 million
Gross: $1 million

Cassandra’s Dream is about two loser brothers Ian and Terry (played by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) who run into some financial troubles.  Terry gets in deep to loan sharks for 90,000 after a high stakes poker game and Ian falls for a high maintenance woman who needs money to keep her happy.  Salvation comes in the nick of time through a rich uncle (played by Tom Wilkinson).  He is willing to let Ian and Terry the money they need if they help with some dirty business.  An employee is going to blow the whistle on his corrupt business dealings and if the two boys murder that employee, he will give them the money they need.

I had been putting off this movie for a while.  I have said before that Woody is a very hit or miss (mostly miss) director.  You have to muddle through a big pile of sh*t to come across the few masterworks.  Well, Cassandra’s Dream is not a sh*tty movie, it just has the distinction of being slightly above average.  What really hurts this film is that the exact same year, you had the far superior Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead by Sidney Lumet.

Even if you didn’t have BtDKYD, this movie that seems like a stock noir movie from the 1940’s.  I expect to find it in one of my public domain box sets along with Detour and DOA.  As many other critics have pointed out, Allen tries to play this up as a Shakespearian tragedy of brothers struggling with a moral dilemma but it falls way below that mark.  Its kind of hard to write this review because its hard to pin point whats missing.  Cassandra’s Dream is a good movie, with very good performances from the actors and some pretty tense scenes when they try to go through with the plan.  However I found myself thinking of even better Woody Allen movies that tackle some of the themes better.  Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point are movies I loved so much more.  Dream does a good job of characterization and good suspense, but the ending is especially rushed and poorly done.  As I said many times before, this is a good movie but there are many better movies dealing with this theme.  Such as Before the Devil which is also on this site.  Check it out.

Re-review:

The previous review was more around the time when I first saw Cassandra’s Dream and when I was more unfamiliar with Allen’s work. I saw it again as part of my attempt to see Allen’s entire filmography. Does it do better, worse, or roughly the same in this re-review?

Well, I’ve never been good at keeping suspense throughout my review so why start now? Worse. This is a movie that struggles through its running time because it really doesn’t have that much new or interesting to say. Compare the characterization of this movie to Match Point. Both are retreading Crimes and Misdemeanors but I’m not going to harp on that for the purposes of this criticism. We spend a lot of time with Chris in that movie but it was important because there was more to Match Point than a simple murder plot. We learn about Chris and his relationships with the women in his life. He is torn between Nola with whom he is more passionate and lustful over, and Chloe who is more bland to him but offers him a way out his social class. Layers are established and it becomes more interesting as a result. In Cassandra’s Dream motivations can be boiled down to simple phrases: Terry is in deep to loan sharks and Ian wants a restaurant.

Even that is fine if there are other things that compensate. After all, in Crimes and Misdemeanors the murder itself was also relatively simplistic but offered itself up to the chance of a philosophical debate. In Dream things are simplistic all over. I had bad flashbacks to Scoop where characters just repeated the same lines of dialog in the hopes we wouldn’t notice. There were so many scenes where it seemed like they were looping this:

Ian: How are we going to do the murder?
Terry: This is wrong.
Ian: Get a grip Terry. You know we need to do this.
Terry: I know Ian, but murder is wrong.
Ian: Are you backing out?
Terry: No, but I don’t know if I can do it.
Ian: Get a grip Terry, we will talk about it later.

And of course after it happened:

Ian: What’s wrong?
Terry: What we did was wrong.
Ian: Get a grip Terry, its over.
Terry: I can’t stop thinking about it.
Ian: Its too late to get cold feet over it Terry.
Terry: To snuff out a life so easy…
Ian: Look, we had to do it. Get a grip Terry. Stop drinking and taking those pills.

And on and on and on and on. I saw a scene where Terry’s wife goes to Ian to tell him her concerns. She describes Terry’s drug and alcohol abuse and begs for help. No more than five minutes later we start another scene where Terry’s wife begs Ian to get help for Terry’s drug and alcohol abuse and I’m thinking “Is Allen finally getting Alzheimer’s and forgot he already did this scene!?” The only time I felt good about this movie was when they were doing the murder but that was because they were finally doing something other than having stilted conversations with bad dialog.

The casting of this movie is a little off too. I’m not someone who hates on Colin Farrell cause he is a fun actor at times. But he is at his best when he can be a bit over the top. Here he has to hunch his shoulders and squish his face up to try to play up that he is so tortured by what happened.

Finally, it is hard to get over the feeling of laziness from the director. It is not one thing but a collection of bits here and there that made me shake my head. Take the scene where Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) gives the boys the offer that he will give them the money if they kill a whistleblower. All during that scene Wilkinson stumbles over his lines. Now I’m sure an apologist will say that the take makes it seem more authentic because no one soliciting a murder would be so cool about it and that it would be natural he stammers. I say Allen is being lazy and only did one take of the scene, mostly because Allen is lazy and usually only does one take for his scenes. Also take the ending in which we should actually see what happens to the two boys. Instead we cut to the police investigation after where the inspector tells us what happened. Seriously, I don’t curse often in my reviews but that’s fucking lame.

Cassandra’s Dream is a boring boring film. I don’t care if Allen wants to do elements from other films so long as he does something interesting with it. Here we have lazy dialog with lazy plotting with lazy themes with a extra smattering of lazy on top. Lumet schooled Allen on this subject with the movie Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and you should still check that movie out any day of the week over this one.

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