Dir. Woody Allen. UK, 2007. 108 min.
Woody Allen's third British outing is neither the satire some of the Venice audiences seemed to denote in it, nor the forbidding tragedy painted in early rumours which spread around the Lido before the official press screenings. If there is a black comedy hiding deep within the folds of this tragic tale, it is so subtly dissimulated that very few will ever manage to unveil it. And if this is supposed to be a tragedy, it's so remote that not many tears will be shed at the end.
The story of two working-class brothers (McGregor and Farrell), desperate to break out of their proletarian confines and reach for a higher social standing, who are willing to do anything, murder included, to attain their goal, has so many strange twists and turns planted into it, that it is difficult to accept at face value.
Alternately sarcastic, condescending, moralistic and, yes, at times surprisingly dark, but never really sympathetic or compassionate, generating an off-kilter, unrealistic feeling, it will need all the help it can get out of the name value of its cast and director, to define its right position on the market place.
Wild Bunch will find Allen audiences to be restricted more than ever to the sophisticated upper echelons, its best chances remaining in Europe, where his reputation still carries a lot of weight.
Both Ian (McGregor), who helps his dad run the family restaurant, and Terry (Farrell), a mechanic working on vintage cars, are unhappy with their present status.
Basically, what they both want is more money, or at least the kind of life and standing money could offer them. Ian dreams of building hotels in California, but even more, of sweeping Angela (Atwell), an ambitious, unstable, attractive young actress, off her feet.
Terry, a pill-popping, compulsive gambler, hopes to buy a dream flat for his girl friend, Kate (Hopkins) and eventually open a sports shop of his own.
Buying a boat in the opening sequence, already indicates their desire for better things in life, but calling it 'Cassandra's Dream' shows how illiterate they are - for them it is the name of a dog who came first in a race and thus provided the money for the acquisition of the boat, but being the dolts they are, they have no idea this was one of the most ominous prophecies in the Greek mythology.
Since neither of the two is sufficiently smart either at business or gambling, soon enough they're both over their heads in trouble, the only hope they have being Uncle Howard (Wilkinson), the mythical figure of the successful relative, used constantly by their mother (Higgins) to harass their father (Benfield) and remind him what a failure she has been unlucky enough to marry.
But when Howard finally shows up in London for a brief visit, he is the one to require urgent help from the boys. Sure, he's going to give them all the money they need, but first they have to get rid for him of a troublesome accountant who might put the dear uncle into very hot water.
The two brothers argue between them, back and forth, whether they are capable of such a deed, the temptation to solve their personal problems is finally stronger than any moral scruples, but once they do it, Terry can't handle the remorse, Ian can't face the risk of his brother spilling the beans and the final, irremediable act of fratricide becomes inevitable.
Allen claims he has always been as interested in tragedy as he is in comedy, but blending them together turns out to be an uneasy process, in this instance.
Having dealt several times in the past with morality tales featuring characters that do not shrink from murder to preserve their status (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point), he turns this time to the lower classes that may not have much to preserve, but have plenty to yearn for.
The trouble being that the characters in it do not fit better the moulds they are supposed to fill. The two brothers are ready-made patsies and their demise is only a question of time, the maverick uncle is nothing like a shrewd businessman, otherwise he would certainly seek more reliable help than anything his clumsy nephews can provide, the parents look like a classical parody of a bickering old couple.
Most serious of all, the sharply biting Allen dialogues, usually capable of saving the most awkward situations, is absent.
Allen's predilection for great DoP's is confirmed again by the presence of Vilmos Zsigmond behind the camera, though the special kind of magic he is reputed for is never exploited here.
As for those who cannot make up their minds what were Allen's intentions, there is the dark, gloomy Philip Glass score to suggest this is not a tale to be taken lightly.
Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as the two brothers bear very little physical resemblance to each other, and if they are proficiently handling their part for most of the time, the ease with which their close, intimate relationship turns around at the end is to say the least, suspect.
Atwell's bed-hopping, ambitious starlet is not much more than a caricature and all of Wilkinson's vast experience can't smooth down the inconsistencies of the character he plays.
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