Woody Allen’s track record of purely “serious” films is, to say the least, spotty. Bergman homage Interiors is a wobbly first effort at non-comedy, not without power but too self-conscious to fully work. Stagey September is out-and-out awkward, while quasi-comeback Match Point remains merely serviceable despite its operatic pretensions. Only Another Woman really takes off, due to its modest aim as an economical character study.
Thankfully, modesty and economy turn up again in the new Cassandra’s Dream, making it a surprisingly decent drama. Does that mean the Woodman is finally out of his almost decade-long funk? Probably not.
The major flaw of each of his movies — good or bad, comedy or drama — is his stilted dialogue; their success depends on how well he can keep the verbal damage to a minimum, and lately that hasn’t been happening. In Cassandra’s Dream that flaw nearly undoes all positive aspects — including Colin Farrell, beautifully swinging through moods of elation, dejection and guilt as Terry Blaine, a sweet working-class Londoner and inveterate gambler. His money woes and the upwardly mobile ambitions of unflappable brother Ian (Ewan McGregor) lead to the Blaines’ decision to perform a murderous “favor” for their rich uncle in exchange for financial lifesavers.
I’d place a spoiler alert about the brothers’ fate, but their doom is telegraphed from the start. Which would perhaps work along the lines of the Greek overtones Allen means to impart if that dimension weren’t also — along with moral themes and usually self-explanatory elements like character traits — spelled out for the audience at every opportunity. Better looking and better acted than most late Woody, Cassandra’s Dream also benefits from diminishing expectations for a once-great director.