Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cassandra's Dream ***

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell
Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Tom Wilkinson

Ian (McGregor) and Terry (Farrell) are two middle class brothers, living in South London, who are trying to achieve success through different means.
Terry works in a garage and makes money on the side by gambling, while Ian works in his father's (John Benfield) restaurant where he dates the waitresses and talks about all sorts of businesses he wants to invest in.
The brothers decide to buy a boat as a first step to achieve their ultimate goal of living the rich life.
Their mother (Clare Higgins) constantly reminds them of their uncle Howard (Wilkinson) her wealthy brother who has become the one image of success they must follow to the detriment and ego bruising of their father.
When uncle Howard comes to London he is willing to help them finance their dreams, if they can do one favor for him: commit a murder.
Returning to the operatic structure of "Match Point" Allen slowly builds his plot towards a crescendo from which there is no return.
He injects the film with a spirit of unease that has us looking twice at every action, like the moment where Ian meets the beautiful Angela (Hayley Atwell) who with her confession about wanting to be rescued can't prevent evoking an archetypical femme fatale.
The plot follows genre staples and creates moments of deeply affecting suspense highlighted by a darkly funny anguish and once again the British ensemble works wonders for Allen.
McGregor is remarkable; if he's been overusing his caddish qualities it's merely because he is great at it. The way Ian dresses and acts like a decadent playboy doesn't result as pathetic as it's heartbreaking.
Wilkinson is once again at the top of his game; during one rainy sequence with a few sentences he makes you believe he could convince you of practically anything.
And while the supporting players are magnificent, the film's true revelation is Colin Farrell who makes justice to all the James Dean comparisons he got at the start of his notorious career.
While Ian is like an Alfie, Terry is the complete opposite, mostly trying to stay out of the spotlight (in fact the camera rarely places him in the frame's center).
First you might assume the plot will revolve around his gambling problem, if only because that's the conception Farrell's public persona would lead to, but once he subtly begins to drive the attention away from him, he delivers a brilliant and unexpected performance.
Perhaps as the film's moral compass, his downward spiraling towards an unforeseeable underworld needs no Greek chorus to convey its full power.
Extracting his themes from film noir and pure Greek tragedy (most notably Medea) Allen can't help but pay tribute to the sources that made him such a masterful filmmaker and even when he's revisiting themes which he's explored more complexly in the past, "Cassandra's Dream" comes off looking less obsessive and more like the bittersweet reaffirmation of someone who has travelled down the dark path of humanity too many times and perhaps can't conceive a more hopeful outcome.

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