I might have liked Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" more had it not been released within a month of Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." On the other hand, I might not either. The two films are so similar in concept and structure that it is easy to grade them: Lumet's feels new and challenging, a film noir that has us pinned to our seats for its entire length; while Allen's feels like a dull film school exercise in screenwriting.
"Cassandra's Dream" is the story of two brothers in London, Terry (Colin Farrell), a garage hand, and Ian (Ewan McGregor), who helps their father run a marginal restaurant; both of them quickly get in over their financial heads. Terry has a gambling addiction and soon loses £90,000 to the mob. Ian, who has upscale desires and hates the restaurant, finds a sexy actress for whom he pretends to be an investor in California hotels, borrowing a Jaguar that's in Terry's garage to take her around. Their father doesn't understand why the boys aren't happy; their mother talks only of her brother Howard (Tom Wilkinson), the wealthy one who's been helping them out financially for many years.
Now Howard appears, like a deus ex machina, back from China for a few days in London; will he help out the boys? Well, yes he will, but there's a catch. It turns out his empire has been built on fraud, and there's one man who can testify to it and destroy it and him. If the two boys will take care of that man he'll take care of them. And you know what 'take care of' him means, right?
So that's the setup, and just so you won't be left in the dark, the name "Cassandra's Dream" is what the two boys give to an old boat they buy with Terry's early winnings at the dog track on a greyhound named "Cassandra's Dream."
The problem is that everything in the film just happens at the moment it's needed to move the drama along. The boat, the uncle, the need to murder the witness, all just seem to be placed in the script to be called upon when Allen needs them. In the meantime Colin Farrell has two expressions: whimpering and crying. Ewan McGregor has one: a salesman's smile. Though they look like they could be brothers, they seem distant from each other. Where our own brothers, yours and mine, bond in the interstices of life, these brothers only talk to move the plot along. You can mark every line by what's going to happen next. After Allen's brilliant "Match Point," "Cassandra's Dream" seems like something he wrote just to have something to do. Maybe it's time to go back to New York again.