Charlie Bartlett Movie Review
Woody Allen is one of the most hit-or-miss directors working today, though critics tend to lean toward misses more often than not. I've actually enjoyed a lot of his recent works from Small Time Crooks to The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - and his serious film Match Point was my second favorite film of 2005 - but then again, he has also had movies like Hollywood Ending and Scoop to make me think twice. With his new film, Cassandra's Dream, I had high hopes as it starred two respectable actors and hints of the magic Allen achieved with Match Point. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
Cassandra's Dream stars Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as two down-on-their-luck brothers who agree to do an immoral task for their uncle (Tom Wilkinson). Terry (Farrell) is a compulsive gambler who has gotten himself deep into debt to a loan shark, whereas Ian (McGregor) is a passionate businessman with big ideas that rarely go anywhere, who wants to run away to America with his new girlfriend. In need of money, the two go to their rich uncle for help - who will give them money in exchange for murdering one of his enemies. Can they do it, and if they do, will it be worth it?
Movies that rely on a single crime, especially a single crime executed by a couple of amateurs, need a lot of things to go right. These kinds of films are often character driven and rely on the intricacies of the characters to lead any plot twists or decisions. As such, they rely on quality acting; that is, up until the finale, when the writer needs to execute something memorable and believable.
Woody Allen sticks to these points for the most part, filling his film with quality actors, pretty good writing, a believable story and a relatively believable finale, but misses on a few levels. While McGregor, Farrell and Wilkinson all deliver fine performances, none of their characters are particularly likable. This is fine, but both McGregor and Farrell come off as more pitiful than anything else, and when the ending rolls around, it's hard to feel for them much at all. Ultimately, the investment in the characters is minimal, despite the actors' best attempts to make them appealing.
Furthermore, while I liked the story, the movie's pace is slow, the crime comes too late in the story (or too early), and the ending is unsatisfying. Allen treats things realistically, but that approach actually hurts a film like this. Crime thrillers need a purpose, and Allen spends too much time developing his characters, effectively pushing off the actual crime until deep into the story. Then, once it has happened, Cassandra's Dream shifts gears into a more standard, paranoia-driven crime thriller. Both halves of the film are effective, but not together. As is, neither section come off as fully realized; the second half especially feels like a lesser version of better, more intriguing crime thrillers. The ending is lackluster, too.
Cassandra's Dream is not a terrible movie, but it's just too slow and subtle for its own good. The movie lacks the impact Allen achieved with Match Point and pales in comparison to other similar films from other directors.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.