Though he's made a handful of good movies over the past 15 years or so—Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, and Match Point leap immediately to mind—Woody Allen seemed to expend his last burst of creative energy on 1992's Husbands And Wives, a painful, darkly funny unpacking of emotional baggage. After that exorcism, plus the bile-expenditure on the risible Deconstructing Harry, Allen has continued his movie-a-year pace, but each film has been a trifle, as if he can no longer muster the energy or creative courage for something deeper and more meaningful. Allen's latest, Cassandra's Dream, is better than most, an engaging little British thriller in the Match Point vein about two brothers who try to take a shortcut to the good life. It also recalls the moral inquiry of Crimes And Misdemeanors, in which an ophthalmologist orders a hit on his mistress and wrestles with the spiritual consequences. But the Allen of today is a husk of his former self, and his apathy and disengagement are painfully apparent.
After following the murderous entanglements of London's elite in Match Point, Allen takes an awkward stab at working-class blokes in Cassandra's Dream, with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as brothers who seek to shed their modest roots. A mechanic by day, Farrell gambles every penny (plus some borrowed ones) on card games and dog races, and goes on enough of a lucky streak to buy a small sailboat. For his part, McGregor dreams of investing in a prospective resort in California, but he doesn't have the capital. The two wind up in desperate straits after Farrell's fortunes turn for the worst, but their wealthy American uncle (Tom Wilkinson) offers them a way out.
The title refers to the name of the sailboat, which initially serves as a potent metaphor for the dangerous fantasy of wealth and entitlement that leads the brothers to compromise their souls. The early scenes on the boat bear an uncanny resemblance to Roman Polanski's Knife In The Water, another film about a life of leisure undercut by tension and violence. But back on shore, Cassandra's Dream feels rote and inauthentic; Allen doesn't exactly have Ken Loach's ear for working-class dialogue (his Cockney family sound conspicuously like Manhattan bluebloods) and the thriller elements echo Crimes And Misdemeanors closely enough that the comparison isn't flattering. Like so many late-period Allens, it leaves behind the feeling that he's made this movie before, but better.