According to Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, delighted the god Apollo with her beauty so much, that he bestowed her with the gift of prescience.
When she didn’t reciprocate his affections, Apollo unleashed his wrath by placing a curse on her – nobody would ever believe her dreams. It ultimately led to the downfall of Troy, because despite her predictions, everybody thought her insane and ignored her.
Similar themes of family, love, betrayal and morality are palpable in Woody Allen’s newest film, Cassandra’s Dream.
In the film, 2 brothers, who are also the best of friends, seek to improve their lives. Terry is a gambler, who incurs great amounts of debt. His brother Ian, on the other hand, helps his father in the restaurant business, while always dreaming of making it big with his get-rich investment schemes. “I wanted to make this film between men,” Allen told The Independent.
Things start looking desperate when Terry owes £90,000 to loan sharks, after losing at poker. Ian also wants £100,000 quickly to participate in a Californian hotel investment scheme, after falling hopelessly in love with gorgeous, and expensive, Angela (Hayley Atwell), an actress wannabe.
They have a simple solution: Uncle Howard. Howard, played by the very talented Tom Wilkinson, had helped out their family on numerous difficult financial situations. This time was no different, except he now has a favour to ask of the 2 brothers – to kill a whistle-blower called Martin Burns (Phil Davis) in return for a loan.
Cassandra’s Dream has a plot that’s best described as mediocre, even though you can expect Woody Allen’s signature focus on emotional and mental struggles, instead of the blood and gore of mainstream cinema.
This film also discusses the worth of morality and explores the difficult circumstances people might be forced into in reality, and how far will people go to overcome them. “We’re crossing a line,” Terry says forlornly, “and there’s no way back.”
However, it still doesn’t change the fact that the plot is mostly predictable and boring. It is aggravated by seemingly inessential dialogue and draggy episodes that can be attributed to an unusual method that Allen chose to tell his story.
Instead of having a central focus in the plot, as we saw cyber torture was to Untraceable, this film seems to resemble a narration of events. If this film were to be a play, it can be broken up into 3 distinct parts – Act 1: The Good Times, Act 2: The Murder and Act 3: The Aftermath.
Such a boring narration of events is only pardoned by impressive character development. Allen moulds the lives of his characters and breathes life into them, through seemingly redundant dialogue and scenes – the sharing of emotions and future plans, the way Ian dates a waitress who later slowly disappears from the plot, the scene where Angela’s father speaks to Ian, the way Ian and Terry’s parents communicate. All these add more detail to the personality of the protagonists, allowing the audience to draw conclusions about their lives and perspectives.
For instance, Ian is the ambitious brother who loves himself more than anyone else. Terry is the imperfect but sweet brother; the kind and caring person who loves his brother more than himself. “What is mine is yours,” he gleefully tells Ian, when the latter wanted to borrow money. This is harshly contrasted when Terry tells Ian that he borrowed money from the loan sharks. Ian turned sharply against his brother, rebuking him disparagingly.
It is also through this method that the personalities of the supporting characters – the middle class parents who care, Terry’s simple girlfriend who is always there, the sexy femme fatale-esque actress-girlfriend Angela, and the manipulative and selfish Uncle Howard – are quickly established.
The characters are also fleshed out by excellent acting. Ewan McGregor plays the ruthlessness and selfishness of Ian so well, you nearly wish you only remembered the romantic in Moulin Rouge . In similar fashion, Colin Farrell subtly conveyed the vulnerabilities of Terry through his speech, body language and facial expression.
Hence, UrbanWire feels it’s a great shame that their lame attempts to mimic the Cockney accent (McGregor is a Scot and Farrell is Irish) only managed to tire out the local audience who needed to constantly pay attention to every word they say.
Unfortunately, such attention was without merit; a poorly written script was the final nail in the coffin, forcing our talented performers to participate in excruciating cringe-worthy dialogue.
The script also borders on black comedy, leaving the audience confused, with some people laughing and others staring at the screen in bemusement. Determined to keep the audience baffled, the script seems to suggest drama at times, but releases the tension in an anticlimactic manner, resembling air that seeps out of the balloon, taking away the drama of an exploding balloon.
Allen’s lackadaisical work attitude didn’t help. When Entertainment Weekly asked McGregor if he ever once discussed the script with Allen, the former replied, “Yes. And he (Woody Allen) wasn’t too interested. Even if you wanted to discuss your motivations or whatever. I got the impression that he wasn’t interested. He really directed it beautifully, but I don’t think he was interested in how you got there.”
Co-star Colin Farrell also said in a press conference for Cassandra’s Dream, “I think I did as many takes for this whole film as I did for one scene in Miami Vice.” It is a pity because takes are one thing that, if increased, might have consequently improved dialogue quality between the actors.
Such a work attitude might have worked for the exemplary film director in the past, but it’s obvious, with his recent films like Scoop and Match Point getting progressively worse, that he needs to work harder.
This film isn’t a complete waste of time, but if he fulfils the Greek myth and ignores Cassandra’s Dream, insisting that the “prophecy” is false and inaccurate, he is, like the Trojans, staring straight into the face of his downfall, while not even recognising it.
“I think you’ll agree,” Uncle Howard says, “that family loyalty cuts both ways.” Allen should take note. His fans have given him many chances repeatedly, according him the respect of an accomplished virtuoso, but even the loyalty his fans has for him has to cut both ways. Don’t you agree, Mr Allen?
UrbanWire gives Cassandra’s Dream 3 out of 5 stars
Opens: Apr 3
Movie Rating: PG
Running Time: 108mins
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Ewan Mcgregor, Colin Farrell, Hayley Atwell, Tom Wilkinson