Cassandra's Dream

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Not short, but oddly perfunctory visit to Patricia Highsmith crime turf

Jan 3, 2011
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Very Good

  • Suspense:

Pros:cast, look

Cons:unengaging, pacing veers from too slow to too fast

The Bottom Line: A joyless, rarely entertaining movie about crime committed by nonprofessionals




In the movie “Cassandra’s Dream” (2007), “Cassandra’s Dream” is the name of a greyhound with 60-1 odds on which Terry (Colin Farrell) bet. He names the sailboat that he buys for six thousand pounds with his brother Ian (Ewan McGregor) after the dog that in effect paid for it. It seems unlikely that Terry has any idea who Cassandra was, though he has some calamitous dreams of his own during the last half hour of the movie.

Terry is a mechanic working in a car rental and leasing agency and a compulsive gambler, hitting booze and sleeping pills rather heavily, and living with a devoted perky blonde (Sally Hawkins Ian is a would-be wheeler-dealer who is smitten by a lanky and actress named Angela (Hayley Atwell). She seems sophisticated, lives in a quite grand London garden apartment, has occasional flashes of wit, and is remarkably unsuspicious of Ian’s pretensions. OK. He looks like Ewan McGregor, but not at Ewan McGregor’s best. (And Colin Farrell is more type,)

The brothers both need money from their mother’s brother, Uncle Howard (an especially slimy Tom Wilkinson). He lives in California and on his swing through London to celebrate his sister’s birthday (at Claridge’s), after the “boys” hit him up for 190,000 pounds, he has a favor to ask of them… a big favor.

Plot spoiler alert

Writer-director Woody Allen, whose own moral expediencies seem to be less held against him on the east side of the Atlantic than on the west, has made a number of movies in which fairly everyday people conclude that it is necessary to murder to avoid difficulty (in Uncle Howard’s case, spending the rest of his life in jail). A rather casual involvement in murder marked Allen’s first English movies, “Match Point” and “Scoop,” as well as his pre-expatriation “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Most of the movie struck me as taking place in Patricia Highsmith country (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train), though there were no trains. Eventually, the movie had an ending more like that of the French adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Plein soleil/Purple Noon, than Anthony Minghella’s more recent one, though one thing leads to another once “crossing the line” and onto “the slippery slope.”

The substance-abusing gambler Terry has severe resistance to killing someone to save Uncle Howard. Ian can rationalize anything that will get him ahead, in business or with Angela.

End plot spoiler alert

Never mind the differences in personality between Ian and Terry, I found it difficult to accept them as brothers, or as native to London. They don’t look similar, and have different accents. Farrell can sound American, but his Irish accent is audible in this movie. McGregor’s Scottish accent differs. Also neither of them looks like or sounds either of their screen parents… or Uncle Howard. And despite frequent hugging, I didn’t believe that the brothers had an emotional bond. (Not that there was even a trace of sibling rivalry…)

Though some sequences go on and on, the finale and, indeed, the movie as a whole seemed perfunctory to me. It is unpleasant as when Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley curdles in the last books (or in the last part of Minghella’s movie of the first of them). Despite the qualms and guilt of one brother, I didn’t feel that the movie took ethical issues seriously. I should be accustomed to being made complicit with murders (Dexter, Breaking Bad, Le samourai, Ghost Dog, and Highsmith novels and screen adaptations) but resented the complicity pressed on me herein.

The movie was not exhilarating, or even enjoyable. Part of me is impressed that Woody Allen makes a movie every year, and has been looking at the world outside Manhattan, but I also think that most of his movies are flawed in conception. In particular the endings fail IMHO. Maybe not all’s well that ends well, but a satisfying ending can redeem a lot, and Allen’s movies don’t.

The score is by Philip Glass, but does not sound like typical Glass until the closing credits. It does not overwhelm what is on the screen, but then Allen had the great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond     (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye).

There are no bonus features, not even a trailer.

©2011, Stephen O. Murray


Recommend this product? No


Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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