by Jef Burnham
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I have to start by saying that Woody Allen has been one of the greatest working American directors for decades. He has created such cinematic masterpieces as Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Manhattan, as well as such comedic triumphs as Sleeper, Love and Death, Zelig, and Mighty Aphrodite. I personally own 24 of his films and have seen all but four the remainder. After a string of good, but otherwise unsensational comedies, Allen bounced back in 2005 with his thriller Match Point, letting his fan base know that he still had great cinema in him. That having been said, I am sad to say that Allen’s latest, Cassandra’s Dream, is a film with scarcely a single redeeming quality.
As much as I disliked Another Woman, by and far, Cassandra’s Dream is Allen’s worst film yet. Unbearable to watch, this film is a moviegoer’s nightmare. Within fifteen minutes of the titles, you are well aware that there is no hope of coming out of this one happy, though you have already given up the $10 for a ticket; and it plods along at almost two hours. Everything from the screenplay to the score fails to display so much as a thimbleful of professional know-how, combining to create what feels like the worst made-for-TV movie imaginable. It is without a doubt one of the most amateurish films I have ever been unfortunate enough to see.
The screenplay is riddled with problems, starting with the basic premise, which I surmise came from Allen learning that you could make guns out of wood. The story is so cliché that Allen doesn’t even provide us with specific details of the plot, such as why, in particular, does Ian and Terry’s (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) uncle ask them to kill his business partner? We are told the man knows things, but that’s as specific as it gets. We’ve seen the story enough times, perhaps Allen felt we could fill in the blanks for him. Furthermore, Ian and Terry’s reasons for going through with the murder (which are, unsurprisingly, money and sex) are so superficial that all subsequent debate on the ethics of their actions directly contradicts the characters’ otherwise shallow natures, which are the basis of the film’s loose narrative.
The screenplay also suffers from a fatal lack of diversity, as scene after scene we get two people talking or two people talking with a silent person in tow. Plus, Allen’s characters are compelled to say the name of the one person they are talking to in every other sentence. All the dialogue is insultingly predictable, using nearly every cliché short of “A penny saved is a penny earned.” We never learn anything in the way of exposition, save for the two facts that the brothers Ian and Terry (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) were on a boat at some point during their childhood and Terry always liked sports. Not a single bit of information is gathered through subtext, as everything, including the foundations of each character’s personality, is stated somewhere in the dialogue. Allen even stooped to directly copying a line from his vastly superior screenplay for Crimes and Misdemeanors and recreating a number of standard, Woody Allen scenes, such as the boyfriend stalking his girlfriend to find out if she is cheating.
The performances, particularly from McGregor and Farrell (who are usually great), are embarrassing. One might be convinced that these two were playing 8-year-olds, were it not for the fact that the characters are sexually active alcoholics. They whine incessantly about everything, even if the line does not call for it. McGregor squeals out Terry’s name about a hundred times per scene in his horribly nasal accent (“Teh-ree! That’s a lot of cash, Teh-ree! Teh-ree!”). The only decent performances come from Sally Hawkins, who plays Terry’s girlfriend and has but a handful of lines, and from the Jaguar, which Ian drives in the film. That is one amazing automobile!
Allen’s direction was so bland it isn’t even worth mentioning, and the score, provided by the notorious, Philip Glass is worse than usual. Living up to the old Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread routine, his score is an endless repetition of the same four or five notes, and Allen only uses the score when the audience is supposed to feel something that his uninspired direction could not otherwise accomplish. In these instances, the score did not help.
Finally, let us examine the title. Though there is a fair bit of pointless conversation about dreams, there is no one named Cassandra in the film to have said dreams. Cassandra’s Dream is actually the name the brothers give their boat, after the dog that Terry bet on to win the money for the purchase of the boat. They take the boat out three times in the first act of the film and board it an hour and a half later in the film for the denouement. There may be a vague metaphorical connection intended in the script between the boat and the period of time before Ian and Terry committed the murder, but I think that is a stretch. Cassandra’s Dream is just a pretentious title slapped on an awful movie.
Jef Burnham is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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