There are two brothers. One of them, Ian (Ewan McGregor), is a hardworking man who has just met a wonderful woman, Angela (Hayley Atwell). The other is Terry (Colin Farrell), who is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, pill-popping man who somehow managed to get a girlfriend (Sally Hawkins) who loves him dearly. The brothers come from a family that isn’t all that well off, except for their uncle, who more or less supported them as they grew up. Generous uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), he’s called.
The first 30 minutes or so of Cassandra’s Dream focus on the brothers getting themselves into trouble. They begin by purchasing a boat with money that Terry won at the track. Then they get into debt (£90,000, if you can believe this) from a single poker game gone wrong. Again, this is Terry’s fault, but he’s dragging Ian down with him. Ian wants to invest in hotels and move to California with Angela, although his father and the restaurant that they own — not to mention Terry’s debt — permits him from doing so.
But generous uncle Howard is coming to town in a couple of days. I believe it is said that he’s a millionaire, and he could easily lend them the money. Then they could move on with their lives. “Hey,” one says, “let’s get the money from uncle Howard!” (Note: This is not actual dialogue from the film.) If I’m making the characters seem childish, it’s because, in a way, they are. They figure that this will solve all of their problems and that they’ll finally be able to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve gambled into.
However, after supporting their family for what must seem like a lifetime, Howard requires something from the two boys. In becoming a millionaire, certain tactics had to be used. Some of these tactics weren’t exactly legal, and there’s a hearing coming up in which a former colleague is going to testify against him. If somehow, some way, this man was unable to testify, that would make Howard the happiest man on the block. He’d also pay off the debts, help them invest in Californian hotels, or whatever else they’d like. All they need to do is kill this man.
The rest of the film deals with the brothers and their decisions relating to this murder. One of the taglines of Cassandra’s Dream is “How far will you go to make your dreams come true?”, and I think that’s an apt description of what this film features. Talking about anything else would be spoiling, but suffice to say that this is a film that deals with the psyche of its characters, as well as the ramifications of their decisions.
If Cassandra’s Dream has a problem, it comes in the form of its ending. I’m not going to say that the ending comes from out of nowhere or that it doesn’t make sense, because the events that take place at its conclusion are hinted at several times throughout. I’m more concerned with the way the ending was executed. Instead of giving us the type of conclusion that we desire, we get about halfway through, and it feels like the film just gives up. Oh, things happen, but they’re explained to us in a quick chat right before the credits roll. We don’t actually see what happens, and it felt as if writer/director Woody Allen couldn’t think of a proper way to end it, so he copped out on us.
The final five minutes, instead of giving us closure and a beautiful ending that will stick in our memories as a perfect finish to a great film, instead serve to undermine what comes before it. There’s a whole lot of good things that happen in this film, but what’s left in your mind is a rushed ending that left you unsatisfied. We explore the minds of these characters for 90 minutes, and then that’s just thrown out the window right before we fade to black.
It’s a shame that this is what gets imprinted in your mind after you finish, as there is a lot of greatness packed within this film. Most important in my eyes is the acting, especially on the part of Colin Farrell. His Terry is an abuser in every sense of the word, and yet for the final half of the film, we watch his mental state deteriorate and we really do feel for him. Farrell manages to keep himself from seeming too whiny, even if a heavy dose of “get over yourself” might do him some good. His situation starts out well and quickly turns awful, and he does a great job of portraying this to us, even if he isn’t our lead character.
The plot we’re taken through isn’t all that complicated, but it remains interesting throughout. It starts out fairly slow, only showing us how our characters live their lives, but once we’re introduced to Wilkinson’s character and given the idea of a potential murder, it picks up steam quickly. Once it gets rolling, like a boulder in a rock slide, it gains momentum until it hits the ground. It’s just unfortunate that in this case, the ground was foam, and the boulder came to far an abrupt end that didn’t do the journey it took justice.
In the end, Cassandra’s Dream is absolutely a worthwhile watch, even if the ending comes as a great disappointment. There are moments of brilliance, the plot is executed wonderfully right up until the finale, and the cast is strong. It doesn’t begin like a thriller that will analyze its characters, but that’s certainly where most of the plot spends its time. Regardless, it’s a film that’s definitely worth a watch.