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With 'Cassandra's Dream' Woody Allen once again gets away with murder

'Cassandra's Dream,' starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, explores the seamy underside of upper-class British culture. But what we're left with is more ordinary than horrifying.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / January 18, 2008

Courtesy of Keith Hamshere/The Weinstein Company

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"Cassandra's Dream" is Woody Allen's third film in a row set in England, the other two being "Match Point" and "Scoop." His next film is currently listed as "Untitled Spanish Project."

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This new international Woody Allen takes some getting used to. For over 30 years his films, for better or worse, have almost always been based in New York, but the city he shows us is virtually all white and upper-middle-class. Allen is captivated by a fantasy New York where Gershwin tunes are always playing, literally or figuratively, in the background.

Narrowness of locale is not, of course, the same as narrowness of vision – if it was, we'd have to downgrade Jane Austen. But over the years Allen hasn't really moved beyond movies such as "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors." What we get are themes and variations on previous good work, to lessening effect.

The London-set "Cassandra's Dream" is about two affable working-class brothers, Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor), who end up as murderers, and it has faint links to both "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Match Point." (These films also have links to Dostoevsky, but let's not get carried away.)

Terry, a heavy gambler and drinker, works as a mechanic in a high-end sports shop and has a devoted and infinitely patient girlfriend (Sally Hawkins). Ian, who runs a restaurant with his father, wants more out of life than his brother. He romances a high-maintenance actress/model (Hayley Atwell) and leads her to believe he's rich.

When Terry ends up owing $180,000 to loan sharks, their wealthy uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who lives abroad, shows up with a proposition: In exchange for righting the debt, he'd like the boys to kill a troublesome business partner of his.

Allen has often been intrigued by the convolutions an ordinary person undergoes when faced with becoming a murderer. ("Crimes and Misdemeanors" is the best example of this. It was also the subject of Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.") But for this scenario to resonate, the potential murderers have to be sufficiently complex or else we might as well be watching a theorem being played out.

Both Terry and Ian are fairly one dimensional, and their inexorable passage to murder is rote. (The insistent Philip Glass music merely underscores the lack of depth.) Personable as both McGregor and Farrell are, they can't rise above the thinness of the conception. Perhaps Allen was trying to say that hapless ordinary men in the service of murder are more horrifying than "real" murderers. But what we're left with is more ordinary than horrifying. Grade: B–

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