In Cassandra’s Dream, Ian (Ewan McGregor) takes his girlfriend Angela (newcomer Hayley Atwell) for drives in vintage Mercedes cars through the English countryside and treats her parents for lunch at Claridge’s. It’s an idyllic life but sadly, it’s all an illusion. The exotic cars belong to a garage where his brother (Colin Farrell) works, and Ian’s regular occupation is helping in his father’s restaurant.
Any money the two boys have ever seen is either won through gambling or their meager savings. Ian and Terry—in their early thirties—have almost resigned themselves to their mundane lives, working at the garage or dad’s restaurant while nurturing dreams of settling in with someone, buying a home, etc. Terry is a gambler, a drinker and a pill-popper and Ian has dreams of commercial investing in California.
But while Terry’s often beleaguered by his mounting gambling debts and post-partying depressions, Ian cuts a more nefarious figure. The first part of Cassandra’s Dream follows a textbook procedure. Woody Allen’s efforts at setting the stage is weighed down by sloppy dialogue and none-too-subtle directions. All this overimplicitness gives one the impression of being spoonfed the plot. But the intrigue improves in Act II, when uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) enters the stage.
Howard’s a cosmopolitan world traveler who owns business ventures and charity organizations around the world. Wilkinson’s performance fizzles rather sizzles, unfortunately.Ian and Terry as well as their mother (Howard’s sister) are in awe of their rich and sophisticated uncle. Unfortunately, Wilkinson’s performance never quite takes off; here’s a corporate tycoon with a real unsavory secret but you couldn’t really tell.
As you will soon learn, he is about to wrangle the two brothers into committing a terrible deed but his fire peters out quickly. He comes across as awkward and out of his element. Fortunately, however, the suspense of Cassandra’s Dream soon eclipses any weak comedy and you’re sitting at the edge of your seat. After a major loss at the poker table, Terry’s life is changed. When Howard asks them for a special favor in return for all the money that would lift them out of debt, their response and following behaviors are almost radically opposed. These two boys who regularly profess their remember-whens to each other and call to mind a blissful happy childhood spent together, almost become like two total strangers by the film’s end as Cassandra’s Dream emerges as film noir.
Woody Allen never ceases to amaze, for while Cassandra’s beginning saunters forward as obvious idyll he soon divulges a hefty drama which will soon meet its eventual demise. Some may find that pairing up McGregor and Farrell together was a leap of faith: I disagree. While at first Farrell appears whiny and self-pitying, his relentless crises of conscience are in fact very purposeful and drive the tension to its unraveling end.
After the film’s turning-point event, he life spins into oblivion. But why would a mechanic, with a bad gambling habit feel so much forebodin? Gamblers who have close encounters with loan sharks and racket men wade deep in the criminal underworld. And yet, Terry freezes to Ian (McGregor) with his blond mane and bright mug seems much more likely to endure self-doubt, guilt and even a bit of good-old Christian morality. But his character is the snider, cleverer of the two and therefore more contemptuous and capable of wrongdoing.
Surprising turns, a suspenseful plot and the relentless energy of good and bad scruples dueling with each other drive the story to its unforeseen conclusion. And what a conclusion! Cassandra’s Dream is a must-see!