A director is forced to work with his ex-wife, who left him for the boss of the studio bankrolling his new film. But the night before the first day of shooting, he develops a case of psychosomatic blindness.
Two London brothers are hard-up for cash, and both have girls to look out for, too. When rich Uncle Howard comes to town and agrees to help them out, he admits his finances are under investigation, and he asks them to do him a favor and "take care of" an old business relation to keep his trouble under wraps - he says that they're family, and since he always takes care of them, the least they could do is help him out this once, as they're the only ones he can trust. The film follows their struggle with the immorality of this request and how each brother chooses to deal with it. Written by
Unusually for a Woody Allen film, the music is provided by a composer - in this case, Philip Glass - instead of being a collection of old standards. See more »
When distraught Terry comes to discuss murder at Ian's apartment, the whiskey bottle comes out twice after changing camera shot angle. See more »
Ah, she's a beauty! I mean, look her - she's not new, but she looks new. He said the engine needed work.
I could do the engine.
I can't believe he's asking so little. It's practically a steal.
John Anderson said we could keep it at his marina - free of charge - at least for a year till his son comes back.
Ah, here he comes. Don't show you're too eager or he won't budge on the price, all right?
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An intriguing thing about Woody Allen's CASSANDRA'S DREAM is the presence of actor Phil Davis. The movie deals with a plot to kill Martin Burns, the character played by Davis. The character isn't particularly interesting and the reasons for wanting him dead remain mostly unclear, but, as Burns -- if you don't look too closely and from a distance -- Davis bears a vague resemblance to Woody: same thinning gray hair, prominent eyeglasses, gaunt face, skinny physique and taste in casual sport coats. The character gets precious little screen time and Davis gets very little opportunity to give Burns anything suggesting a personality, so the similarities are purely superficial -- but then, the resemblance CASSANDRA'S DREAM has to a Woody Allen movie is also vague and superficial.
It is, admittedly, unfair to criticize a filmmaker for not making a movie that fits neatly into a previously constructed mold, to try to do something different. And Woody has two established styles -- absurdist comedy and dark, oh-so serious melodrama. In his prolific career he has managed to run the gamut between the extremes, occasionally mixing tones, yet still creating films that have a distinctly "Woody Allen" quality. But, as was the case with the equally banal (and vastly overrated) MATCH POINT, the problem with CASSANDRA'S DREAM is that it is not only devoid of Woody's style, but of any style. As always, the film is technically proficient and slickly done, but there is a coldness, a lack of purpose behind CASSANDRA. Like many of his films, it is essentially a dramatized short story, but it lacks either his rambling, cynical sense of humor or a pointed moral that makes its serious tone have a bite. Even his tired trademark rant about the futility of life due to the absence of a benevolent god is given only slight attention.
The story is relatively simple: In London, two close, working-class brothers find themselves strapped for cash and seek to borrow money from their wealthy uncle. Uncle Howard is more than willing to oblige, but there is a catch; the boys have to earn the money by killing one of Uncle's business associates, the aforementioned Mr. Burns. From there, the story could go in two directions: a comedy of errors as the two hapless amateurs try to commit the crime or a suspenseful drama as the two get drawn deeper and deeper into a dark world that neither wants nor is prepared for. Allen takes the story in the latter direction, though unfortunately, as he has shown previously, he has no skill for creating suspense or directing scenes of violence.
CASSANDRA'S DREAM isn't a bad movie, but rather an inadequate one -- or more accurately, an incomplete one. The performances are just fine, with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as the brothers, Ian and Terry, doing their best to flesh out thinly drawn characters. Indeed, the actors could easily carry the material were it not for the weakness of Allen's poorly contrived narrative. Even accepting as a given that Ian and Terry are amateurs, their plan to kill Burns is embarrassingly simple-minded and illogical: If Uncle Howard is the one most likely to want Burns dead, wouldn't his poor nephews' sudden display of unaccountable wealth seem suspiciously convenient? The story needs to be fleshed out with believable complications and should build to an ironic twist that delivers a bang and not a mere whimper.
The screenplay that Allen offers is not without its merits. The two men played by McGregor and Farrell, are basically decent blokes, but their need for money and the way Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) manipulates them to go bad in the name of family loyalty pushes them to rationalize their behavior. Further, Ian is ambitious and Terry is a gambler, and Allen subtly defines Uncle Howard as an ambitious gambler in his own right. But, the story also shows that Ian and Terry have parallels to Burns as well, similarities the script would have done better to explore with much greater interest. As is, the battle between good and evil as Allen lays it out is exceedingly lame; the "we-can't-do-this / we-have-to-do-this" dialogue is not backed up -- or hyped up -- with any dramatic tension. When the boys actually meet Burns and they (and we) find him to be a nice, friendly man who seems undeserving of his fate, the dramatic tension should be kicked up a notch. We are barely allowed to care for Terry and Ian to the point where we don't want them to commit the crime, but we should certainly care as well whether their innocent victim dies. As in MATCH POINT and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (and to some degree even MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY), Allen can't seem to muster up much interest, let alone sympathy, for the victims of the crimes he concocts. A recurring theme in so many of his films is characters who rant and rave about how unjust and cruel our supposedly godless world is, yet when Woody creates little worlds for his movies, the god he plays isn't any more compassionate or caring. What's missing -- and I know it is a tired complaint -- is Woody's sharp wit that not only blesses his best characters with the quirks and charm that make them humorous, but humane as well. When Woody defines his characters through wit, they come alive; when he defines them by their bitterness and discontent, they remain stagnant and uninteresting, and worse, largely one-dimensional. All of Woody's laborious moralizing dialogue never has as much power as one of his well constructed pieces of casual sarcasm.
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