Serving, and Missing, Another 'Match Point'
Friday, January 18, 2008
Maybe it's time for Woody Allen to come home.
Ever since the critical acclaim of 2005's "Match Point," filmed and set in England, the New Yorker has practically set up camp in Blighty, waiting for lightning to strike again. But 2006's "Scoop," his second U.K. venture, stopped no presses. And "Cassandra's Dream," the third British production, falls afoul of its own cynical miscalculation -- that recycling the macabre elements of "Match Point" will somehow replicate that movie's success.
Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play lower-middle-class English brothers in dire financial straits. Ian (McGregor), who works in his father's restaurant, needs a sizable investment to join a real estate business venture in California. Terry (Farrell), a boozy mechanic with a gambling addiction, gets into trouble with loan sharks. They think their problems are solved when their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) agrees to back them. But that's before they hear the Faustian deal he has in mind.
As with "Match Point," the movie is structured as a morality play with an almost subliminally comic subtext. As events become increasingly (even ludicrously) morbid, we're supposed to watch with dread and philosophical amusement as these characters lead themselves into hell. But "Match Point," which seamlessly married its fatalistic story line with truly vulnerable characters, had us at first serve. We liked everyone so much, we wanted to believe in everything, even the more outlandish twists and turns in the second half.
We feel no such affection for the people in "Cassandra's Dream." In Allen's reductive vision, these "working-class types" seem to be -- variously -- money-grubbing, conniving, nakedly ambitious or childishly helpless. Although McGregor and Farrell produce some occasionally spirited moments, particularly in the earlier scenes, they are little more than walking and talking schemes, their choices based entirely on socioeconomic impulses. (These British ears could also easily detect a Scot and an Irishman playing English.)
With the creation of Angela (Hayley Atwell), a conniving stage actress who takes Ian's heart, Allen is obviously trying to reprise some aspect of Scarlett Johansson's femme-fatale character in "Match Point." But where Johansson's Nola Rice was a siren with a heart and believable motivations, Atwell's Angela is an obvious manipulator who blends into the movie's one-note population. Perhaps Allen has already learned from his mistakes: His next film -- "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" -- is set in Spain. And Johansson is back in the lineup.
Cassandra's Dream (108 minutes, at Landmark's Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema) is rated PG-13 for macabre themes, sexual material and brief violence.