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Living - January 25, 2008

Movie review: Cassandra's Dream **

Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, some sexual material and some sexuality Run Time: 1 hours, 45 minutes

"Ain't she a beauty?" remarks one brother to another, as they admire the sailboat bearing the title of Woody Allen's latest venture into Greek tragedy. They think the vessel has a lucky name. But viewers know that anything named after Cassandra, the seer who entangles men, is the first portent that things will go very, very badly for this pair of dreamers.

Writer-director Allen's third feature shot in London is "Match Point" without the suspense and sexual tension. He revisits the same destination points with characters seeking to reinvent themselves and find their fortune. The ladies - particularly Lady Luck - figure prominently in the listless drama.

The overwritten screenplay layers bad omen upon bad omen, symbol on top of symbol. Allusions abound to Euripedes and Medea. Characters relate their disturbing dreams that warn of future gloom and doom. The lifeless narrative, a series of constructs more at home on the page than played out on screen, features British siblings Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor). A gambler believing that luck comes in streaks, Terry won enough money at the dog races to buy the sailboat that he names for the long shot that first crossed the finishing line. His luck runs out at the card table, and he needs to find a big sum of money fast.

Ian hopes to escape from the family restaurant business by investing in California property-development deals. His father (John Benfield) predicts the only ship to come in for certain has black sails. No kidding. Wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), the siblings' solution to their financial problems, seems to be captain of that ominous pirate ship. He needs his nephews to do him a favor in exchange. Murder, anyone?

Although all the performances are remarkable, the actors can't break free from the too neat-and-tidy script. The dialogue-heavy movie does raise moral questions that you won't find in the recent deluge of male-heart-of-darkness films. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" hinge on greed and the violence it begets. These films don't ask you to ponder philosophical questions.

Allen continues to ruminate about crime and punishment in a cruel world. Is there any difference between killing a stranger for a family member or killing a stranger for your country during a war? Ethical issues extend to Ian's actress girlfriend (Hayley Atwell): Would you sleep with a director to get a part? Individuals have choices. At what point does one break God's law?

Although Allen navigates familiar waters, seduced by money and sultry female sirens, "Cassandra's Dream" may lull you to sleep instead of inducing nightmares.

--Susan Tavernetti

For more movie reviews or local show times, go to www.DanvilleWeekly.com

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