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This is the third time Allen has made a drama dealing with the moral insanity surrounding the possibility of murder. The first - "Crimes and Misdemeanors" - is one of his very greatest films. "Match Point" made only two years before "Cassandra's Dream" was strong, if not as complex and gut-punching as "Crimes…". While critics liked this film by far the least of the three, I feel this can certainly stand at least on equal footing with "Match Point".
I will concede that the conclusion is slightly underwhelming and feels rushed. But the strong performances by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell (who arguably does his best work ever here) as brothers in various financial need -- whose rich uncle will bail out if they kill someone -- make the film upsetting (in the good way) and tense.
Indeed there are some terrific Hitchcockian moments in the film. Allen breaks with his normal style in interesting ways. Instead of only using source music, Philip Glass contributes a powerful and effective score. And the camera-work by Vilmos Zisgmond uses different kind of movement than I usually associate with Allen, including a sort of 'creeping camera' that helps to heighten the tension in a number of scenes.
Make no mistake, this is more moral drama than thriller, and those expecting a thriller's pace will be frustrated. But whatever its flaws,it's an intelligent, well acted attempt to come to grips with moral responsibility in a world where money rules all.
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
London Murder MysteryJan. 20 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A Spine-tingling Fable. . .Nov. 8 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" is a tightly-wound fable about the morality and consequences of overweening ambition. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell star as two working-class brothers who start out with outsized dreams but end up with a wealth of troubles wrought by obsessive social climbing. Ian (McGregor) passes himself off as a high-rolling property investor/developer, largely to impress his paramour, an alluring actress with a wondering eye (Hayley Atwell), while Terry (Farrell) sinks into the mire of compulsive gambling. In their desperation to finance their respective endeavors, the brothers turn to a wealthy uncle (Tom Wilkinson), who in turn extracts a deadly Faustian bargain from his nephews. Like 2006's "Match Point," "Cassandra's Dream" is yet another in a string of movies that are propelled by Woody Allen's lifelong fascination with class, morality (especially as it is defined or interpreted by the socially prominent) and the resulting friction. As with "Match Point," "Cassandra's Dream" has a spine-tingling, thriller-like urgency that quickens and intensifies as the story moves along. And Colin Farrell gives what may be one of his finer performances as the boozing, pill-popping and guilt-ridden prole unwittingly roped into an unspeakable vendetta.
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The love and game: the strings of life!May 24 2008
Hiram Gomez Pardo
- Published on Amazon.com
Since the times of "Mighty Aphrodite" the genial Woody Allen seems to have found a never ending vein of possibilities, blending the essential roots of the Greek tragedy with the classic patterns of the Noir Film.
As a matter of fact, if "Match Point" was one of his most supreme achievements until this date, "Cassandra ` s dream" is the perfect vehicle to carve in relief the existential anguish and the primary scream for two working class brothers who aspire to escape from his quotidian environment.
Every one of them wants to be recognized and admired, playing the game of a wealthy uncle, who is for their mother, the symbol of success, and the real support along his years of childhood and youth.
So, we have the greedy mother, the ruthless uncle who is a real wolf of the finances and regards the existence like a poker game. "Family is family and blood and blood" is his honour` s code, the fatal statement which will open the Pandora's box , leading the viewer to be witness of what the unsatisfying thirst of ambition and greed .
Once more, we are in front of one the most intelligently written and better conceived scripts of this tireless filmmaker, where the brain sees to impose itself into a world eminently emotional where nobody is totally innocent.
Both brothers appear like the sides of a coin, one represents the wounded conscious, while the other is the symbol of the pragmatism. A similar dramatic device who reminded me to Sean Penn `s "Indian runner".
Watch it, because it's absolutely gratifying from start to finish.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Leopold and Loeb reduxSept. 28 2008
Roland E. Zwick
- Published on Amazon.com
Whenever he turns to drama, Woody Allen always seems to wind up channeling either Ingmar Bergman ("Interiors," "September") or Fyodor Dostoevsky ("Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Match Point"). "Cassandra's Dream" finds him in one of his Dostoevsky moods (with traces of Hitchcock thrown in for good measure), once again making the case that it is both impossibly difficult and ridiculously easy for the common man to engage in cold-blooded murder.
Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor star as two working-class brothers who have fallen onto financial hard times (one is a compulsive gambler, the other a frustrated cipher with dreams of rising above his station both economically and romantically). Desperate for some immediate cash, they reluctantly agree to knock off one of their wealthy uncle's business rivals who has some secret knowledge that, if it ever got out, could send the old man up the river for a very long time.
Set in London, "Cassandra's Dream" is not as sharp and cutting as some of Allen's previous works in this genre, but thanks to strong performances by Farrell, McGregor and Tom Wilkinson as the uncle, this latest update of the Loepold-and-Loeb story manages to keep our interest most of the way. The themes, which have been played out in literature and movies for what seems like eons now, understandably feel a trifle old-hat at this late stage in the game, but Allen's generally sharp dialogue, canny insights into human nature, and smooth direction help to freshen them up a bit.
It may not be Allen at his finest, but the ancillary rewards of script and acting make the film well worth seeing.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
GoodAug. 26 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
The DVD, by Genius LLC, has no features, save a few theatrical trailers of other films. The film's score, by Philip Glass, is hit and miss- as often emotionally leading an audience by the nose as genuinely enhancing the film, a characteristic far too many Glass scores embody. The camera work by longtime Allen collaborator Vilmos Zsigmond is quite good. But, the writing is what sets this film apart from so many other routine `thrillers.' In a sense, Allen's problem with such a film reminds me of a similar problem that German director Werner Herzog had with his recent Vietnam War film, Rescue Dawn. So many critics focused on how its similarity in themes to earlier masterpieces by the director showed the later film up as inferior to the earlier ones that they missed out that the newer films were damned good on their own. Yes, Rescue Dawn is not as good, deep, and poetic as Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, and similarly Cassandra's Dream is not the almost perfectly crafted masterpiece that was Crimes And Misdemeanors, but so what? Both are outstanding films that, shorn of the comparisons, and if directed by artists other than Herzog and Allen, would have drawn unadorned raves. Also, it's helpful to note that the critics who dissed this film are the same folk who dissed the same earlier great Allen films when they came out, but who now hold them up as exemplars, only exemplifying the utter lack of critical acumen this essay's first sentence denotes.
This film also provides a terrific showcase for Colin Farrell to show off his acting chops. Playing against type, he is the weaker of the two brothers, and he is excellent, showing that he is not mere female eye candy, and that turns in stinkers, like Oliver Stone's Alexander, are not the best he can do. Ewan McGregor is good, as usual, as are the girlfriends, Atwell and Hawkins. Wilkinson is solid as the uncle, but the film might have given him a bit more to do. As is, his character is only a plot device to propel the brothers on their journeys, although the fumbling delivery Howard makes, and his digressions on why he won't consider a professional contract, make the scene all the more believable.
But, the film is so rich with great moments that detail character and plot, as mentioned earlier, that the screenplay could be used as an aid in screenwriting classes, for the film does trod over familiar Allen territory, but often with new twists and interesting asides which only deepen the resonance the film has. As example, after Ian meets Angela, he dumps his black girlfriend, Lucy, and a bit later, we see him callously telling his dad how special Angela is, and how much better and classier than any other girl he's dated she is. Lucy hears this, and the reaction she gives subtly lets us know how hurt she is and what an insensitive ass Ian is. There is also a scene where Ian questions Angela's ethic, by asking her if she'd sleep with a director to get a part, and she replies under what conditions she would. Ian, who has far weightier issues to deal with, seems stunned, but Angela puts him in his place by stating she gave the answers, but did not like the question. It's a small moment that shows that, while vain and egocentric, she does have a delineated ethical compass, and a penchant for giving as good as she gets- something many more one dimensional Allen sexpots lack. But, these are only two of a dozen or more such moments that enrich this film beyond mere `thriller' status.
And while Terry and Ian ruminate a bit on ethics they are not the typical Allen eggheads hemmed in by their intellectual prowess and emotional impotence. Their collective naïve-te is actually a bit refreshing, for when they repeat ideas hashed out in earlier Allen films (like the concept of `pushing a button' and someone is dead, borrowed from Crimes And Misdemeanors) or fixate on new ones (such as an addled Terry's claim that `It's always now!'- i.e.- the moment they committed murder) it is always in a different tone- one with more desperation, pathos, or stolidity- than before or expected. Also the fact that Allen, at several points, including the film's ending, seems to let the film settle into a groove that seems predictable, only to pull out the rug from under the viewers' expectations, lets the film maintain a tension and vigor it would otherwise lack. Viewers naturally desire clichés, in an emotional sense, for the comfort, yet when the film resists it the momentary disappointment blossoms into attraction to the storyline's turn from the expected, for manifest clichés invoke an intellectual resistance in a viewer, as well.
All in all, Cassandra's Dream is an outstanding and acidic portrait of family and crime, and one that was shamefully dismissed, when not neglected, by the idiotic elitists that populate the critical consensus that dominates film reviewing. Go against the grain, seek out this film on DVD, and let it work within you as well as on you.