Friday, January 18, 2008

Allen tackles big themes with little picture

Summary: Few things are as tiresome for a film critic as bashing Woody Allen, a pastime that in recent years seems to have become almost routine. But with each new Allen disappointment, one is again forced to take up the cudgels. "Cassandra's Dream" trots out themes Allen explored 19 years ago in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and more recently in "Match Point," as it follows the tribulations of two brothers who commit a terrible crime for a wealthy uncle in need of a favor. Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor star in Allen's latest, and although Farrell impresses as a guilt-ridden gambler, the movie proves another tired attempt to explore big themes at the expense of convincing character development.

In "Cassandra's Dream," Farrell and McGregor play the brothers Blaine, Terry and Ian. Early on, the brothers overreach by purchasing a sailboat, which they name "Cassandra's Dream.'' Not content with what they've acquired, they allow their ambitions to lure them into treacherous moral waters.

A refusal to accept one's station in life becomes a motivating factor for the working-class characters Allen creates. McGregor's Ian seems especially eager to advance his fortunes. He wants to hang onto his beautiful and refined actress girlfriend (Hayley Atwell) and invest in a Los Angels-based hotel deal. If he doesn't act immediately -- or so he thinks -- he may be forced to spend his entire life running the marginal restaurant his father (John Benfield) owns. Terry's dreams are less grandiose; he works as a mechanic, but hopes to open a sporting-goods store and marry his cheerfully devoted girlfriend (Sally Hawkins).

Enter phenomenally wealthy Uncle Howard, played by the always-credible Tom Wilkinson. Howard promises to help Terry free himself from a whopping gambling debt and jump start Ian's business. Of course, he wants something in return. It seems that an associate (Phil Davis) is about to expose illegal activities at one of Howard's foundations. The pesky colleague, says Uncle Howard, must be made to disappear.

The story's moral dilemmas are clearly stated by the characters, who may be entirely too self-aware to be credible, but Allen marches on anyway, building toward an ironic conclusion and again showing (as he did in "Match Point") that he can handle suspense.

"Cassandra's Dream" isn't awful, but it's not especially compelling either. It's a medium-grade Allen effort, the third Allen film set in Great Britain. I'd rank it beneath "Match Point' and above "Scoop," Allen's two previous London-based films. Intermittently involving, "Cassandra's Dream" is marred by an inescapable feeling that Allen is trying to pour old thematic wine into new bottles. The movie fails to excite.

1 comment:

Fielding said...

Close: nothing is as tiresome a film critic bashing Woody Allen, especially since his position in the industry is so entrenched your whining becomes particularly irrelevant.