Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

CASSANDRA'S DREAM (Woody Allen, 2007)

Again using London as a backdrop, Woody Allen continues his exploration of the evil that people do with CASSANDRA'S DREAM. Working class brothers Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor) manage to get by, but like most people, both want just a little bit more. First it's a small sailboat they can't afford until Terry wins a sizable bet at the dog track. They name the boat Cassandra's Dream after the dog that brought them the unexpected windfall.

Terry's hot streak continues at the poker tables. While he vows to stop before getting in over his head, Terry is seduced to continue so he can rake in enough to buy a home for himself and his girlfriend Kate (Sally Hawkins). Inevitably his luck ends with disastrous consequences.

Ian, though, is in no position to bail out his brother. He also needs money. He fantasizes about investing in California hotels that could give him the financial freedom to ditch the drudgery of working in his father's struggling restaurant. Ian speaks as though this dream is the reality he is living. Such big talk, along with the luxury cars he borrows from the auto shop where Terry works, allows Ian to impress and begin dating Angela (Hayley Atwell), an actress with expensive tastes. To hold onto her, he must become the bigtime investor he claims to be.

Terry and Ian cling to the hope that their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), always so supportive of his less fortunate sister and her family, will give them the cash they want. Howard is happy to help as long as the boys will do him one favor. He is under investigation and faces the possibility of losing everything and going to prison. If Terry and Ian will kill the the man ready to testify against Howard, all will be well for everyone.

As in MATCH POINT, Allen is fascinated with the wickedness humans are capable of justifying in the name of self-preservation. Terry relies too much on alcohol, pills, and gambling, and Ian's ambition outstrips his ability; however, neither are bad guys, just flawed individuals, until they accept the terms of Howard's proposal. CASSANDRA'S DREAM slowly ups the ante and provides the means for escape, but no matter how reluctantly they entered into the agreement, Terry and Ian make a choice that cannot be reversed.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM is fraught with uneasy tension as the brothers debate ethics and plot murder. The decision the characters ultimately choose seems as predestined as any in Greek tragedies, yet the film is chilling in depicting how Terry and Ian convince themselves that they have no other recourse. Divine supervision and reproach is absent in the universe Allen constructs, which is precisely why he theorizes people are capable of committing terrible acts.

McGregor shows Ian effortlessly slipping into amorality when tempted with the promise of a comfortable life. He's like the cat that eats the canary after a cost-benefit analysis. Terry, a car mechanic accustomed to dirty hands, doesn't have the compartmentalizing ability of his brother. Farrell's tortured performance is the film's guilty conscience. Seeing the insides of this rough-and-tumble actor gnaw at him brings the torment into sharp focus.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM is not a top-notch Woody Allen film, but this dark drama is a worthy addition to the director's career-long search for meaning in a world where randomness and cruelty often reign.

Grade: B

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