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I went into the Toronto Film Fest screening of Woody Allen’s latest movie Cassandra’s Dream completely void of knowing anything about it. With no other preconception besides the fact that I really enjoyed Match Point, I sat down to see what was in store this time around. Would it be a comedy or a drama? Since his last entry, Scoop, was a comic one, which I have not yet seen, I was ready to be enthralled with a mystery of dramatic proportions. What a surprise, though, when around a quarter of the way through, this one turned from serious to amusing. I need to believe that the laughs are intentional because of the way in which the performers start to ham it up for the camera. No way would Woody allow that to happen if he didn’t really want it to. Upon exiting the cinema—the glorious Elgin Theatre that reminded me a lot of Buffalo’s own Shea’s—many audience members seemed to be buzzing about whether they were laughing at good comedy or piss-poor, over-the-top theatrics. I never second-guessed myself that the laughs were genuine and by doing so, I found that I loved this film.

Some of you may be aware that Allen had cast and started preproduction on a film directly before beginning Cassandra’s Dream. For some reason the production fell through and was ultimately scrapped. No one knows if it was somehow reworked into the movie we see now, but I would guess that it was not. My first impression, once we discover the true impetus of the movie, was that this is Match Point with comedy. The plots of both follow a very similar path and the murder and guilt accompanied with it are one and the same. In the end, the only real difference between the two, besides the superficial supporting characters that are switched around, is the way in which both conclude. Whereas Match Point stays calm and methodical, Cassandra becomes very much a comedy of errors. It will really depend on your personal taste for which you feel succeeds more. Also, if you liked the first, you should like this new spin, but, if you disliked the first, you may find yourself enjoying this one because it seems to rectify a lot of what people criticized Match Point for.

Our entry point into the tale is with two brothers played by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell. The two come from a modest family, whose father is a restaurant owner attempting to get McGregor’s character to take over the business for him, while Farrell works at a garage fixing cars when not betting at the neighborhood track. Allen does a wonderful thing with these characters as he casts both against type. McGregor is usually the heart on his sleeve type and sympathetic in nature while Farrell generally plays the ladies-man lothario who is not afraid of a little scrap. Both are completely flipped on their heads here with Ewan getting ample opportunity to be cool under pressure, seeing the big picture at all times and Colin showing some real nice range as the depressed and conflicted one, unable to wrestle with his conscience. Much like Terry Gilliam’s Brothers Grimm with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger cast as opposites, I believe this change of pace helps build up the atmosphere needed for the laughs to work. Farrell’s facial expressions are priceless and McGregor’s attempts to stay afloat, while the world falls apart around him, is top-notch.

The story itself is straightforward, much like Match Point. Both brothers find themselves in trouble financially, one for gambling debts and the other for a woman (the beautiful Hayley Atwell). Only their rich uncle will be able to save them both, however, the time has finally come where his charity will need to be exchanged for something he desperately needs. It is the proposition from Uncle Howard, a wonderful acting job by Tom Wilkinson, which really sets into motion the underlying plot point that props up the rest of the film. What he asks is impossible, yet after some persuading and bouts with ego, both brothers take the plunge and find they can’t deal with the pressure it causes.

Even though I found a few of Woody’s metaphors a bit too heavy-handed—“what’s your favorite Greek tragedy?” and the interpretations of dreams occurring left and right—I found the acting and plot progression to be spot-on. Both leads carry the film on their backs and without those performances would have left the whole thing behind to drown. While it could seem a tad lazy that Allen would pretty much rehash what he did two years ago, it is different enough to succeed on its own. Cassandra’s Dream could be looked on as a very capable companion piece to Match Point, (I may even go so far as saying I liked it better), but it also shows that a little comedy can go a long way. Hopefully Woody will delve more into this mixture of theatre’s two faces and show how working together can create some wonderful art as well.

Cassandra’s Dream 9/10

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photography:
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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