Cassandra's Dream may be darker Woody Allen territory, but it's just as familiar--and just as mismatched with the distinctively all-British cast.
Woody Allen's neurotic-speak works wonders coming from a New Yorker, but coming from a Brit? Not so much. The British could very well be just as phobic as anyone else, but they are also repressed, and trying to force the neurosis out just doesn't ring as true. Nevertheless, Allen is bound and determined to film abroad these days and thus once again sets Cassandra's Dream in contemporary London, where we meet two brothers struggling to better their lives financially. The more blue-collar Terry (Colin Farrell) has a gambling problem and is in debt up to his eyeballs, while enterprising Ian (Ewan McGregor) dreams of leaving his family's restaurant and moving to California with his newfound love Angela (Hayley Atwell), an ambitious actress. Their only hope is their wealthy uncle, Howard (Tom Wilkinson), but the boys quickly find out you can't get something for nothing. You see, Uncle Howard is also in a bit of trouble, and he asks his nephews to help him out of his jam--with sinister consequences.
First of all, Farrell and McGregor look about as related as a dog and cat. Secondly, they don't seem at ease in the film, partly because their characters are anxious, but also partly because they don't mesh as well with Woody Allen's sensibilities. Farrell fares a bit better since his natural Irish tendencies towards emotional outbursts fit the character well. His Terry is the one with the conscience, and murdering someone just doesn't sit well with him. McGregor, on the other hand, plays Ian almost robotically, saying the words with as little emotion as possible, which doesn't do Allen's dialogue any justice. Wilkinson falls under the same category as McGregor, but his character is the one most morally challenged, so playing it cold sort of works. The women in Cassandra's Dream are fairly wasted, including newcomer Atwell as the manipulative actress and Sally Hawkins as Terry's sweet and concerned girlfriend. Even the boys' mother, played by veteran stage actress Clare Higgins (The Golden Compass), comes off screechy. The cast must have all been thrilled to be in a Woody Allen movie, to be sure, but it just seems like Allen didn't get them.
Cassandra's Dream suffers from some of the same hang-ups as Match Point. Even though many heralded that 2005 movie as Woody Allen's return, the film had the same problems, namely the ill-fitting British cast. At least Match Point had an American, Scarlett Johansson, whom Allen could pour all his tried-and-true fixations into--the paranoia, the obsessiveness and the ultimatums. But Cassandra's Dream really proves that as a filmmaker, Allen has become a stick-in-the-mud. He really hasn't changed his tune in 25 years, exploring the same themes over and over again, and it's finally getting old. When his films turn dark, it's usually about how murder can corrupt the soul. Natch. Sometimes the murderers, however bothered they are by their deeds, get away with it; sometimes they don't. But rarely does Allen veer from this path, making Cassandra's Dream a now very stale rehash of Crimes and Misdemeanors, without the benefit of having, at the very least, some good old-fashioned Allen-styled, American-acted neurosis to back it up.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.