For me, Woody Allen’s dramas can be just as good as the comedies he’s better known for; and these dramas seem to fall into at least two different categories: those that are reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s work, such as Interiors and September; and those that seem to be more inspired by the literature of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, like Crimes and Misdemeanors. Cassandra’s Dream falls in with the latter. Allen is treading in similar territory to his 2006 film Matchpoint; however, he has changed the tone and theme slightly. Once again murder is the moral dilemma facing the lead character(s). This time though, the crux is on the weight of committing the crime instead of how the crime relates to fate and chance.
Brothers Ian and Terry, played respectively by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, are educated, middle-class English lads looking for success. Ian is more intellectual with aspirations of leaving the struggling family business and getting into investments. Terry is younger and works as a mechanic maintaining classic cars. Terry wants to settle down with his girlfriend and put a down-payment on a house, but he has one major flaw keeping him from this goal: he’s a compulsive gambler—especially when it comes to high stakes.
The brothers are very close and they both look up to and idolize their mother’s brother, Howard, a very successful businessman. Howard has always taken care of the family, helping them through difficult financial times and spoiling his two nephews. After Terry gets himself into some serious debt the brothers decide to consult their uncle and try to convince him to bail them out and assist in their respective financial endeavors. There’s a catch though: Howard’s business is shadier than they ever imagined, and he needs something from them in return—expecting help to be reciprocal when it comes to the bond of family.
Ian and Terry must deal with the choices that now face them and weigh the consequences and profitability. There are no simple answers when dealing with situations as extreme, guilt ridden, and beneficial; in fact, the strength of the film lies in the dichotomy between how the two brothers deal with the situation and the tension created leading up to the act itself. Colin Farrell’s performance is stellar as the anxiety-ridden brother who’s unsure whether or not he is even capable of committing the crime, and, afterwards, whether he can continue to exist without punishment. Ewan McGregor’s character takes a different approach, trying to disregard his emotional connection to the act and, instead, intellectualize the necessity of the murder to gain his own financial objective while helping the uncle he reveres.
Unfortunately the film has some shortcomings. As the last act commences, the plot adds a twist that unfortunately lacks enough stamina to match the emotional intensity that was so thick leading up to the crime. Instead, the film meanders to an interesting yet unaffecting conclusion. Plot threads that deal with secondary characters are introduced as important to the story, but then gradually show themselves as mere tangents. There isn’t enough development of the supporting characters to add much weight to the movie and it struggles to make the viewer understand some of the motivations behind their actions and attitudes.
All in all, if you’re a Woody Allen fan who enjoys his dramas, then you should check this out. If, however, you are already on the fence about Allen, then perhaps you should skip this and opt for one of his more masterful films like Crimes and Misdemeanors or Hannah and Her Sisters.