reviewed by Andrew James
The film starts with Ian and Terry (McGregor and Farrell); two brothers on the edge of being successful if they could just clear a couple of financial hurdles. When those hurdles prove to be too big for either of them, they request the help of their rich uncle played by Tom Wilkinson. He agrees to help, but in return, he asks that they "get rid of" a traitorous informant to his business that will ruin him forever should the informant be allowed to testify. Reluctantly... very reluctantly, the brothers agree to the caper. From there, it's planning and building the psychological strength to pull off the murder. But paranoia and fear, along with some small, unforseen obstacles that spring up along the way, keep the brothers from completing a simple task and turning it into a nightmare for both of them.
Allen has this great knack of building up suspense and tension and holding it over our heads for as long as possible. Just when we think there's to be a sense of relief, Allen pulls one more block from the Jenga stack and forces his audience to endure more tension than they bargained for and sustain that anxiety until we see another tactical block of suspense about to be removed from the Jenga stack. Collapse is inevitable, but the build-up to that collapse is nearly unbearable.
The story isn't all that complicated and doesn't force much thought from the audience, but thought isn't what keeps us in our seats; it's the tension. One problem leads to another and builds and builds until the pressure cooker is sure to explode. The problem is that there isn't really a lot to chew on afterwards. The story unfolds and presents itself to us in the simplest of terms. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just don't go looking for something to challenge you... it isn't there. Not like it was in Match Point.
The other problem lies with the casting. McGregor seems to hold his own and there isn't any more praises that can be given to Wilkinson. He's terrific as always. The problem lies with two characters: Farrell's Terry and Hayley Atwell's Angela (McGregor's love interest). The problem with Farrell as that he is horribly miscast. The character of Terry is frightened and whiny. Collin Farrell's persona just doesn't convey this character well at all. There's nothing wrong with the acting, Farrell exhibits an honorable attempt with what he's given, but we all know Farrell to be too cool for school and this role just doesn't suit him. With Angela, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the character. Far too much time is spent with this character that seems to be in the movie for no apparent reason other than sex appeal and to consume time. This character might've taken the story to new heights had she been utilized in some sort of plot twist or really had anything to do with the plot at all. Alas, she does not.
Still, as noted, the story does well at carrying an audience to the brink of frustration for long periods of time and it's extremely well shot. This particular brand of Allen is very much indebted to the great Hitchcock-ian thrillers of his time. Despite a few instances of questionable dialogue and a running time that does feel a bit long, Cassandra's Dream is enough to please the easiest of film goers. A tense, fairly undramatic thriller that unfolds nicely, but will leave the more adventurous film goers looking for more. To keep it short and sweet though, I basically liked it quite a bit; but I'd like Allen to shoot a little higher next time or my new found appreciation for his work will certainly dwindle.
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Flixster Profile for Cassandra's Dream