The critics seem to enjoy beating up Woody Allen. "Cassandra's Dream" follows in the trend of the last 15 or so years of the public and critics turning their back on Allen and his films. I've found that they sometimes take cheap shots. It's one thing not to like an Allen film, but often I read personal attacks against Allen the man. Remarks are made concerning his age, personal life and his relationship with Soon-Yi. Rarely do critics stick to comments concerning editing, cinematography or acting without inserting a jab at Allen.
Every review I've come across for this film has been negative. "Variety" did not like it, spending a majority of the review complaining about the characters accents and the language used in the film, citing it is not authentic if you are British. Roger Ebert did not like it nor did the Chicago Tribune while the New York Times seemed luke-warm to it.
Once again however I find myself on the outside of public opinion. "Cassandra's Dream" is one of 2007's best films. Many may want to compare it to Allen's "Match Point", Allen's other film set in London revolving around murder and social class. Don't! The films are very different. "Match Point" I felt used metaphor in a more superior way. I thought Allen did a better job expressing his views on society in that film, but, "Cassandra's Dream" should not go without its due praise.
The film follows two lower class brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) trying to get by and climb the social ladder to success. Terry has a bit of a drinking and gambling problem. For now the gambling is paying off. Winning small amounts at cards and betting on the dog track. Ian on the other hand works at the family restuarant but dreams of investing in hotels. In many ways he wants to be like his rich uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who has travelled all over the world.
One day Terry's luck runs out, he losses big at a poker game and is 90 thousand pounds in debt. Where will he get the money? Ian has some money saved for his hotel investments but not 90 thousand pounds. Their only hope is their rich uncle.
Before their uncle will give them the money he has a favor to ask. There is a whistle-blower at Howard's company who is going to testify against him for some questionable business moves he made. Howard needs the man to be, shall we say, eliminated. And he can only turn to his family for such a request.
At the heart of Allen's film is what lies in men's souls. Are good people capable of bad things. The brothers may have their faults, but they are not criminals. The tagline line for the film is every dream has a price. It's key to the film. How far would you go to reach your dreams? How severely will we allow our moral judgement to punish us for "sinful" acts?
We saw this question present itself in Allen's "Match Point" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (which also had brothers planning a murder. In fact the original title for the film was "Brothers") .
McGregor is good in the film as his character I felt was better defined and goes through more of a transformation. Farrell is the weak link of the bunch. His character seems underdeveloped. In honesty both characters could have used more work but McGregor adds something to the character through his presence as an actor. He makes the part more interesting then it was written. Farrell keeps his performance at the page level. Meaning he doesn't flesh the character out to make it his own but instead simply sticks to the page.
The major acting find here is Hayley Atwell. She is a treasure playing Angela Stark, a love interest for Ian. She is an unknown actress who has the potential to be a star. Unfortunately Allen and his legendary Hungarian cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, whose credits include "The Long Goodbye", "The Deer Hunter", "Blow Out" and Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" don't linger on Atwell. Allen should have had the camera follow her more aggressively, making the camera and the viewer fall in love with her. But that may have changed the tone of the film.
Zsigmond though for his part does get some beautiful country side shots as Allen shows as a different side of London than what we saw in "Scoop" and "Match Point". We see a more gritty side of London.
The editing of the film I also found effective. It slowly builds tension. As I first began watching the film I thought to myself this is a "good" Allen film. Then I slowly became more and mroe involved. How would the murder happen? Would they do it? Will they get away with it? How will such a film end? The film really grabbed my attention. My eyes became glued to the screen.
Sure there are downsides to the film, some of the performances, I thought more could have been done with Atwell and I found the original score by Philip Glass, at times unsuccessful in creating the proper mood. I didn't think it added much to the film. I thought the best scenes were the ones without any music. But "Cassandra's Dream" is worth seeing. Yes the negative remarks will continue, but for me at least, I'm glad I saw this film.
Bottom-line: One of 2007's best films. Despite some flaws Allen manages to keep his audience engaged. The film slowly creeps up on you.