It’s getting increasingly difficult not to talk about Woody Allen’s films in the context of his body of work. While on one hand, Cassandra’s Dream does feature what could be construed as a Jaws reference, it’s also rather similar in pacing to some of Allen’s late 1970s, early 1980s films. The film’s first act is a purposeful character study. I almost thought–not having read any reviews in depth and only barely remembering the preview–Cassandra was a character study, devoid of any epical narrative.
When the narrative does kick in–and the film becomes a dreary examination of choices–it’s got to be more than a half hour into the film. The tone changes, as it has to due to content, immediately. Allen makes that move intentionally and life changing due to things said and done is one of the film’s recurring themes.
And Cassandra’s Dream having themes is its undoing. Occasionally (see, I’m placing it in his body of work again), Allen gets the idea doing a film with a constraint would be a good idea. Usually, it results in the film going wrong as he’s got to force it to fit the constraint. Cassandra is no exception. At some point, the script makes a wrong turn and there’s no way to recover. The end is inevitable for a lot of reasons and is uninteresting for just that reason. After spending two hours creating these complex brothers, Allen cheats them out of a real conclusion.
As the brothers, Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor quickly overcome their lack of physical resemblance–I think Cassandra’s Dream is the first time Allen’s ever done a two brothers film. Both actors get to go through enormous changes through the film. At the start, they’re about even quality-wise. They don’t go anywhere unexpected, so McGregor’s failure to shine in the end is more because Farrell is just so fantastic, there’s no room for anyone else. Farrell’s performance in the last half hour is mesmerizing. It just keeps getting better.
Past his narrative choices, Cassandra’s Dream frequently feels like something utterly different from Allen. Stylistically–in no small part due to the Philip Glass–it’s as though he’s going for a French feel, but set in Britain. The occasional character mentions of their dreams harks back to Allen’s greatest works. Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography is perfect, making the muted London skies lush. As usual, it’s a technical achievement.
Thanks to Farrell and the majority of the film, Cassandra’s Dream is a success. I don’t like when Allen’s films are so contingent on ending well. As Cassandra does need to end well and does not… it’s somewhere between a qualified success and a superior failure.
Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; music by Philip Glass; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Gareth Wiley; released by the Weinstein Company.
Starring Ewan McGregor (Ian), Colin Farrell (Terry), Hayley Atwell (Angela), Sally Hawkins (Kate), John Benfield (Father), Clare Higgins (Mother), Phil Davis (Martin Burns) and Tom Wilkinson (Howard).