Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Tom Wilkinson, Haley Atwell, Sally Hawkins

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Following Match Point (2005), without a doubt my favorite Woody Allen movie after Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Allen reunited with gorgeous Scarlett Johansson for the travesty that was Scoop (2006) and then made Cassandra’s Dream the next year, staying in England to shoot.

Cassandra’s Dream seems to be a hole-in-the-wall for most critics, mostly due to the fact that its storyline meanders down the same path between violence, choice and the strength, or weakness, of family as does Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (also 2007).  The latter is purported to be the better movie by virtually all big-name critics, and I’m not one to argue, but Cassandra shouldn’t be left adrift in favor of barely-better film unfortunately released in the same year.

Blue-collar gambler/drinker Colin Farrell and easily-dazzled, wishing-he-was-a-big-shot Ewan McGregor are brothers in suburban London, content with the small things in life, like a nice boat they just splurged on, thanks to the winning streak that Farrell had accumulated at the dog races.  But money proves to be of lingering importance, a theme in many Allen movies, and the boys take advantage of a reunion with wealthy plastic surgeon uncle Tom Wilkinson, in from L.A. for the week.  What they don’t expect is that old uncle has a proposition for them that they didn’t expect, but promises the solution to all their money woes.

The climax of the film involves the perpetration of this proposed deed, and from there a film that had prided itself on its symbiotic success of great writing and great actors’ delivery of such writing somewhat dissolves.  McGregor easily forgets the deed, his mind flush with thoughts of imminent success and pleasing his new, gorgeous actress girlfriend, played by Atwell. But Farrell not so much, and he proves to be a convenient moral thorn in the side of McGregor and Wilkinson, which leads to a much-rushed and also convenient ending aided by yet another murderous proposition by the good uncle.

The film could have afforded an extra fifteen or twenty minute lengthening, to fill in the gaps of the too-rushed conclusion, and to allow more time to develop the agonizing choice McGregor’s character is facing, achieved expertly by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in the conclusion/resolution of Match Point.

It’s a shame when films dissolve, albeit quickly, towards the end, and I’m usually at a loss as to what causes this, whether it be pestering producers, bad weather, actor/director scuffles or illness. Cassandra’s Dream (the name of the sailing vessel that begins and ends the film) is a good movie, but only a decent one in the prestigious filmography of Woody Allen.  It has all the makings of an excellent film: great, exciting writing, vivacious young actors who love their job, theme-filled plots of the bonds of blood and the allure of becoming rich, and the always-engrossing choice that inevitably makes or breaks the protagonist(s).

But Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as the brothers, does the same thing, but with more choice, more thematic plot, and more inescapable tragedy, but only does it better.  It’s s shame Cassandra’s Dream can only be discussed anymore through that lens, but such a thing can easily happen if the navigation one followed through half the movie is cast off (or lost in storm) before the ending.

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