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CASSANDRA'S DREAM

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Hayley Atwell, Colin Farrell, Sally Hawkins, Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Genius Products
Features:  None
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date:  May 27, 2008

“Family is family…blood is blood.”

Film ***

It seems in the last few decades, murder has been on Woody Allen’s mind.  Starting with the brilliant Crimes and Misdemeanors, rolling through the comedic Murder in Manhattan, and his return to dramatic form with Match Point, it feels like a little killing makes his creative juices flow.

He covers similar territory in Cassandra’s Dream.  It’s an English tale of two brothers, Ian (McGregor) and Terry (Farrell), who dream big but seem to lack the fortitude to make things happen.  Terry has problems with alcohol, prescription pills, and especially gambling, in which he tends to push a winning streak until it breaks.  Ian helps their father in his restaurant, but his heart isn’t in it.  He plans for a real estate deal that will make his name, and give him the capacity to woo a sultry stage actress Angela (Atwell).

The only light for them comes in the form of a wealthy uncle Howard (Wilkinson), a man with a self-made fortune who never turned his back on his family.  He can help…but he needs a favor.  That favor is the death of a former business partner turning whistleblower.  It’s the kind of favor a rich man could go to just about anybody to carry out, but he only trusts his family.

How easy is it to pull one trigger and have all your dreams come true?  And at what price?  Is conscience something that we naturally carry, or something we choose?  Yes, it was all covered in Crimes and Misdemeanors, and with much weightier philosophy.  But Cassandra’s Dream offers a tight, well-written, suspenseful meditation with solid characters and more than a bit of pessimism.

The movie has been compared to Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which I haven’t seen yet, so I can’t join the discussion.  I can only say that the Woodman has dealt with this subject more strongly in the past.  Here he seems content with just a straightforward character drama, which is better than most other filmmaker’s attempts.  My only real complaint is the all-too-obvious stab at dramatic irony at the end.

Still, the pleasure of a Woody Allen film to me is in the delicious writing and the great performances he always coaxes out of his actors, especially when they play against type.  Colin Farrell, the eternal bad boy, is terrific playing a weakling, and the noble Jedi Ewan McGregor is in fine form as the brother who proves he can be ruthless when the situation calls for it.

All the ingredients are here; it just seems Allen was content to let the recipe simmer instead of boil.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Cassandra's Dream is the name of the brothers' boat, and references the mythological woman who could see the future, but was cursed to have no one believe her predictions.

Video ***

This is a fine looking anamorphic transfer from Genius…indoor and outdoor scenes are well-detailed, with only a touch of softness here and there.  Grain or artifacts don’t mar the experience.

Audio **1/2

So many of Woody’s offerings are mono only; here we get stereo, largely due to the impressive score by Philip Glass.  Not a lot of dynamic range, but the music sounds good and the dialogue is always discernable.

Features (zero stars)

None.

Summary:

It won’t rank amongst his best work, but sub-par Woody Allen still offers a hungry filmgoer more than most writer/directors at their best.  Cassandra’s Dream covers familiar ground, but in a satisfying way.

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