Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cassandra's Dream: Grade A

Cassandra’s Dream
Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Tom Wilkinson; Writer-Director Woody Allen.

This is a classic tragedy in ancient Greek style. Cassandra was a mythological Greek figure who could foretell the future (usually tragedies) but could do nothing to change it because nobody believed her. In this movie, Cassandra’s Dream is the name of the small sailboat owned by two working class brothers (Farrell and McGregor) in modern day London. The movie opens with the men buying the boat and it ends with them dying on it. The idea we are supposed to take away is that one cannot change one’s fate, but that is an allusive pretension the movie didn’t need. In fact the story is a very slow starter and that whole early scene of buying the boat could have been cut. My guess is that Woody Allen wanted the boat to play the part of the Greek Chorus, but again, the allusion is weak, pretentious, adds little, and wastes time.

The brothers have dreams of greater things, but get into debt. A rich uncle (Wilkinson) seems their salvation until he reveals that he will be imprisoned if a colleague is allowed to testify. He convinces the brothers to kill that man. Farrell does some fine acting as he wrestles with his conscience before and after the event. Wilkinson and McGregor also produce great performances. The directing and dialog are noticeably stilted and stagey, especially in the first half, but that may be to support the idea that this is an update of a classic Greek tragedy. The flow smoothes out in the second half. The climax of the movie is Farrell’s crisis of conscience when he says something like, “We have done something that goes against the order of things. The world must be made right again.” That is crux of all Greek tragedy, and in fact, Allen manages to have a character throw in a reference to Euripides in case we were not catching the allusion. I would have liked more attention paid to whether the brothers’ actions were really personal choices or just fulfillment of their inexorable fate. Allen has not quite captured the essence of a Greek tragedy but I certainly enjoyed his attempt.

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