Theatrical Review: Woody Allen
's Hannah and Her Sisters culminates with a warm and fuzzy Thanksgiving dinner scene where all the inner and outer relationship problems plaguing the angst-ridden characters in the film are happily resolved and familial ties are reaffirmed; a tiny beam of light in Allen's dark and bleak tunnel of life. And ever since Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen has been renouncing that happy ending in every film he's made… but never more so than in his two recent dramas, Match Point, and now, Cassandra's Dream (Allen's 42nd film as writer/director).
Cassandra's Dream is Allen's most grim and uncomfortable film to date, surpassing even Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. At least in those films the upper class criminals get away with their deeds and get on with their lives (however psychically diminished those lives may be). Not so in Cassandra's Dream, where two lower-middle-class brothers commit a dark crime (almost a British translation of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
) that not only shatters their humanity but also destroys their family ties and much more. Article continues below
Terry (Colin Farrell
) and Ian (Ewan McGregor
) are two brothers who are sick of their lives and want something better (the something better, as is the case in most Allen films, is material gain). Terry is a dull-witted auto mechanic prone to gambling and booze who wants to own a sporting goods store. Ian pretends to be something he is not, driving around in borrowed vintage cars repaired by Terry and claiming to be a real estate investor; he actually works as a manager in his father's downscale restaurant. When Terry wins big at the dog races (betting on a dog named Cassandra's Dream -- Cassandra also being the name of a Greek mythological prognosticator of bad events) the brothers buy a boat they never could have afforded but for Terry's winnings and see this as a sign that there lives will now change. Their rich Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson
) arrives for a visit, and Terry and Ian decide to ask him for money to bankroll their dreams. Uncle Howard agrees to help them but at a cost neither of the brothers could have anticipated. All in the name of family.
In this unrelenting and uncompromising film, Allen directs with the ease of a master, filled his trademarked one-take scenes and tight compositions of his actors trapped in doorways and pushed to the side of the frame by walls constricting both the players and the audience in an airless, doom-laden atmosphere. Vilmos Zsigmond's drab and dank cinematography and Philip Glass' unsettling score further enhance Allen's directorial touchstones.
Allen doesn't loosen his chokehold for a moment and even though there are moments of dark humor (a man unknowingly about to be murdered meets his soon-to-be killers and talks about visiting his 91-year-old mother for dinner, saying that he doesn't want to miss dinner with Mom because "at that age you can go at any moment"), the lines stick in your craw, and Allen makes his audience twist in the wind.
The older Allen gets, the more curdled his world view becomes -- more depressing, more bitter, more hopeless. Allen used to look upon the desolation of death and philosophical despair in a bemused, mocking Isaac Bashevis Singer sort of way (his Fiddler on the Roof dance with death that closes Love and Death, for example). But lately, Allen nihilistic and futile perception of human nature and life traps his films in a hermetic box of woe. In Cassandra's Dream, death and emptiness has engulfed Allen's spirit; the figure in the director's chair is now garbed in a black shroud, carries a scythe, and wears black-rimmed glasses.
Allen can still direct a tightly constructed, concise film of meaning and emotion, but the purchase of a ticket to see Cassandra's Dream should come complete with a loaded revolver.