Synonymous in Greek with “she who entangles men,” the name of Greek mythological goddess Cassandra, which is half of the title of Woody Allen’s third UK cinematic venture Cassandra’s Dream, appeared previously in the director’s Greek influenced Mighty Aphrodite. As Wikipedia reported, the character of Cassandra briefly appears saying, “I see disaster. I see catastrophe.” However, the doomed predictions of Cassandra take the form not of a person in his newest thriller but instead of a boat purchased by two brothers in South London at the start of the film, which foreshadows the tragic events to come.
Whether it’s his position working in the family restaurant helping out his ailing father, or with the beautiful waitress he shares a bed with until he feels a need to trade her in, or in his constantly evolving modes of transportation driving posh cars he borrows from the auto body shop where his mechanic brother Terry (Colin Farrell) works, Ian Blaine (Ewan McGregor) is the type of man who’s never satisfied with his lot in life.
Everything about Ian seems temporary until he encounters two new ventures he’s decided will be a sure thing. The first is a chance to get his foot in the door by investing in California hotels and the second appears with the arrival of flirtatious and sexually confident actress Angela (Hayley Atwell) whom he rescues with a broken down car on the side of the road... never mind the fact that he has his current date in the front seat of his own borrowed automobile.
Playing hard to get makes Ian decide to play even harder to secure her affections and soon he’s decided that his two schemes of love and money go together when he begins to imagine jetting off to California for good with Angela after she teasingly asks him to run away with her one night. In what may have well have been a hypothetical lover’s question, suddenly the plot is propelled forward by Ian who’s determined to make everything work out to his advantage.
His equally determined brother Terry is a dreamer as well, although one whose weakness seems to be for betting in the form of dice, dogs and cards instead of betting on high class hotels and shapely brunettes. When he loses an overwhelming sum in an evening of high stakes poker, he and his brother Ian decide to consult their Uncle Howard (played with sharp cunning and confidence by Tom Wilkinson who excelled at playing the opposite traits in 2007's Michael Clayton).
Idolized Howard-- the family’s Golden Boy-- has become an international success and he’s discussed as the Blaine family savior repeatedly throughout Cassandra's Dream. Family is family, of course and Howard is willing to help out his nephews but his financial assistance comes with an impossibly high price revealed in a tense rain-drenched conversation where the swirling camera manages to catch the viewer feeling just as off-balanced as the two Blaine brothers when they’re given the terms of the murderous agreement.
Obviously, the perfect crime is never perfect as the two begin to cope with the perilous arrangement when faced with the prospect of investigating just what the two are capable of in order to realize their ambitions. While at first, I thought that casting tough "man’s man" Farrell as the sensitive heartbreaking Terry and Moulin Rouge, Down With Love star Ewan McGregor as the slick yuppie was a contradictory choice despite the fact that Farrell’s brooding blue collar handsomeness and the seductively polished McGregor physically fit their roles superbly but soon I was so lost in the story, that I actually forgot the actors and their previous credits. I was especially impressed by Farrell who manages to frustrate and win us over all at the same time and the interplay between the two was so devastating that The Big Picture’s Colin Boyd included his belief that “a touch of Lenny and George from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men can be seen in the performances” at the start of his Cassandra review.
Pulsating with a driving score by Notes on a Scandal composer Philip Glass, the film which comes off the heels of the similarly themed Sidney Lumet ’07 masterpiece Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead seems at first glance to be Allen rehashing the same moral decay and brotherly dynamic he’d explored in Crimes and Misdemeanors or the equally American Tragedy (although set in London, of course) tinged Match Point but as The New York Times wrote, Allen’s “latest excursion to the dark side of human nature, is good enough that you may wonder why he doesn’t just stop making comedies once and for all.”
While it’s hard to imagine the world without another Woody Allen comedy, movies like Cassandra’s Dream which are so much richer and prone to philosophical and cinematic debates afterward prove all of the critics who stated the auteur Allen had overstayed his welcome wrong. Perhaps, like Lumet, with several decades of life experience behind them, they’re finally able to tell the stories that resonate more deeply with them rather than worrying about a younger director’s fixations on box office scores and test audience reactions and filmgoers are lucky enough that they still want to share it through cinema.