Cassandra's Dream

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This review was written for the festival screening of "Cassandra's Dream." 

Venice International Film Festival (Venice Masters)

VENICE, Italy -- Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" is a humorless misfire that wastes the talents of some fine actors including Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell and Tom Wilkinson while continuing the mystery of Colin Farrell's appeal to major filmmakers.

As writer, Allen offers lazy plotting, poor characterization, dull scenes and flat dialogue. As director, he makes no demands on the abundant talents of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and composer Philip Glass. He employs predictable and illogical London and countryside locations. And he abandons good players to do what they can with the material at hand while allowing Farrell to mumble his way through another indifferent performance.

The film, screened in the Venice Masters sidebar of the Venice International Film Festival, has minimal boxoffice prospects, and only McGregor and Allen completists are likely to want it on their DVD shelf.

McGregor and Farrell play unlikely brothers who become enmeshed in a plot by a rich uncle to murder a disgruntled employee whose testimony in court could send him to prison for life. Ian (McGregor) is a clean-cut dreamer who helps his worn-down father run a small restaurant and borrows fancy cars to impress women. Terry (Farrell) is an unshaven lout who works as a car mechanic, drinks too much and likes to bet on the ponies.

Nevertheless, the brothers are able to pool resources for the purchase of a good-looking boat that they name "Cassandra's Dream" after a horse that recently came in for Terry.

Even with this outlay, Ian is able to make plans to invest in a scheme to build hotels in California and to woo a beautiful young actress named Angela (Atwell). And Terry finances a home for his bubbly wife Kate (Sally Hawkins) and buys a seat in a big-time poker game.

When Terry loses 90,000 pounds at poker, they turn in desperation to fabulously wealthy Uncle Howard (Wilkinson) who just happens to be visiting London from his sumptuous home in Los Angeles where he oversees a global chain of plastic surgery clinics.

Uncle Howard is willing to pay off Terry's debts and provide the funds for Ian's hotel dreams if they will do him a little favor. His empire is about to come crashing down and he will go to jail unless he can prevent a man named Martin Burns (Phil Davis) from testifying. He has to be killed. "I see no alternative," says Uncle Howard.

At first unwilling, the brothers talk themselves into the crime and the rest of the picture follows their attempts at murder and its dire consequences. But it is played out with not a shred of wit or tension. Key plot points beggar belief: that jittery, pill-taking Terry knows how to play poker or that any loan-shark would allow him to build up such a huge debt; that Uncle Howard, having global resources including businesses in China, would have to resort to his witless nephews to get him out of a jam; and that two basically decent and humble blokes would so readily commit murder.

It's all contrivance, and Allen does none of the things required in a movie to establish verisimilitude. There's no comment on the lives of the two young men and scenes involving Atwell and her theatrical chums have no bite. Atwell is a major find, however, and like McGregor and Wilkinson, and the rest of a good cast, will go on to better things. Where Allen and Farrell go now is a sadder question.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM
Wild Bunch
An Iberville production

Director, writer: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Gareth Wiley
Executive producers: Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Daniel Wuhrman
Co-executive producers: Jack Rollins, Charles H. Joffe
Director of photography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Production designer: Maria Djurkovic
Music: Philip Glass
Co-producers: Helen Robin, Nicky Kentish Barnes
Costume designer: Jill Taylor
Editor: Alisa Lepselter

Cast:
Ian: Ewan McGregor
Terry: Colin Farrell
Angela: Hayley Atwell
Kate: Sally Hawkins
Howard: Tom Wilkinson
Martin Burns: Phil Davis
Father: John Benfield
Mother: Clare Higgins
Boat owner: Peter Hugo-Daly
Lucy: Ashley Medekwe
Jerry: Andrew Howard
Terry's track mate: Keith Smee
Mel: Stephen Noonan
Fred: Dan Carter
Director: Richard Lintern
Helen: Jennifer Higham
Mike: Lee Whitlock
Estate agent: Michael Harm
Dora: Emily Gilchrist
Bernard: George Richmond
Burns' mother: Phyllis Roberts
Burns' date: Tamzin Outhwaite
Angela's mother: Cate Fowler
Angela's father: David Horovitch
Jaguar owner: Matt Bardock
Garage boss: Jim Carter
Nigel: Paul Gardner
Eisley: Mark Umbers
Servant: Maggie McCarthy
Poker players: Hugh Rathbone, Allan Ramsey, Paul Davis, Terry Budin Jones, Franck Viano, Tommy Mack, Milo Bodrozic
Detectives: Richard Graham, Ross Boatman

No MPAA rating, running time 108 minutes.

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