It’s been a week since I’ve seen Woody Allen’s new effort Cassandra’s Dream and I still remember the two main character’s names, Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor). Not because these brothers are really that memorable, it’s because they say each other’s names so many times there’s no possible way you could forget. It’s “Terry this”, “Terry that”, “What are you doing Terry?”, “Terry you’re not thinking Terry.” And a lot of this comes in one conversation.
Obviously a little exaggerated, but at a certain point it starts to feel unnatural. You begin to feel that these aren’t two human beings you’re watching, but constructs. A way for Allen to deal with the things he finds to be most interesting; goddless world, murder, death, sex, obsession, ambition, love…and how all of these things can corrupt or at least become rationalizations for corruption. And there’s some decent rationalizing done.
There’s a lot of repetition used as filler. We get certain things that we’re still hearing about two scenes later. Then sudddenly you’re cuaght up in what’s happening. It’s back and forth, in and out. Unrewarding then thrilling. And I have a feeling that Allen knows this. There are pieces of dialogue that point directly to him knowing this. It’s fine that he wants to be clever about it, but that doesn’t mean it works entirely. So much of it comes down to, how much do we like these characters?
First you have Terry, an obsessive gambler that doesn’t think he obsesses until he’s in way over his head. He loves the thrill of it. And then there’s Ian, a charming, ambitious young man who would rather be making millions like his uncle than working in the restuarant with his father. He would rather be wooing a beautiful actress and promising her things well beyond his ability than dating one of the waitress’s at said restaurant.
They box themselves into so small a corner they can only see one way out when it’s offered to them. It comes in the form of their rich uncle, played by Tom Wilkinson. The Uncle is another construct, an inciting icident if you will. You really only understand that he’s rich, owns companies, and wants someone killed, because he’s not that great a guy – supposedly. He’s never done anything like this before (as far as he says) and the brothers have never been asked to do something like this. They rationalize, hem and haw, there’s no other way they decide.
This back and forth goes on and on. It helps that the two actors are so charismatic. It doesn’t help that the two characters are such pruning babies. Until we get beyond the volleying of the negatives and positives involved with killing someone and to the actual deed itself. Allen shifts this knowing construct of a film and uses the methodical character development that he’s built into the script to his advantage (It’s no wonder that he chose Philip Glass as his composer this time around.) By the time Terry and Ian make an atempt to pull off the deed there’s no possible way you imagine it going according to plan, becaue you know that they reach beyond what they’re capabale of and tend to gamble everything away. This creates some incredibly tension filled scenes. That as a director Allen handles with grace and ease.
He teases you. His sense of humor being put to good use in how he handles the construction of the darker elements of the film. The brothers end up having far more than they deserve to lose. Somehow they manage to pull off their perfect lives and are too blind to realize it. This is the ultimate cosmic joke Allen plays on them. Of all the movies he’s made, I feel his God like hands manipulating the character’s paths before them. He’s toying with them. These brothers are his Job, his Cain and Abel. It gives the film a very biblical kind of feeling. It’s a parable. And it’s probably one of the bleakest films I’ve seen in a long while with an insiduously dark sense of humor laced throughout.
It’s probably why I really liked the movie despite it’s flaws. The biggest being that in the end the film as a whole feels more like a treatment to a film than a film itself. It’s a pitch that’s been strateched into a movie. The exciting parts sell us on what the movie could have been and the stuff in between is good enough to get us to each thrilling plot point.