The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.
Note: This review and questions might contain spoilers.
Woody Allen again stays behind the camera in this tale that will remind viewers of either Match Point or, better, Crimes and Misdemeanors. The setting is more working class London than the posh envi rons of Match Point. Two Cockney brothers find themselves in desperate financial straits and reluctantly agree to a plan suggested by their wealthy uncle that will save themselves and him, but perhaps involve more cost than either realize.
Terry Blaine (Colin Farrell) works as a mechanic but wishes he could afford his gambling obsession: he often bets more than he should at dog races and at card games. His brother Ian ( Ewan McGregor) runs a small restaurant with their father (John Benfield) but longs to have the cash to buy into a dubious hotel project in California. When Terry wins big at the race track, the two brothers are able to buy an old sail boat needing repairs. They name it after the winning dog, “Cassandra’s Dream.”
Terry is able to buy a flat and move in with his lover Kate (Sally Hawkins), and Ian is able to set his sights on “high maintenance” (her father’s description) actress Angela Stark (Hayley Atwell), whom he met and helped when she had car trouble out in the country. Matters abruptly take a turn for the worst when Terry hits a losing streak at the card table, winding up with a debt of 90,000 pounds. The loan sharks are threatening him with bodily harm if he cannot meet his payments—this Ian discovers when he tries to borrow some more money from Terry in order to keep up his pretense with Angela that he is a well off businessman. Their salvation seems eminent when they learn that their Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) has left China and plans to take the family to lunch when he stops over in London on his way to his California home. Uncle Howard has been more than generous in the past, helping by his gifts, such as the one enabling their father to purchase and keep the family restaurant afloat.
Uncle Howard has made his fortune as a plastic surgeon. His move to California has netted him lots of wealthy clients in the film business, so Ian has kept the flirty Angela’s interest by telling her that through his uncle he will be able to connect her to filmmakers. Dear old Uncle Howard is amenable to the brothers’ request for financial aid, as well as getting Angela connected in Hollywood, but there is just one little favor required from them. “Anything,” the relieved brothers assure him. It seems that there have been some business irregularities which business associate Martin Burns (Phil Davis) is about to reveal to the authorities. This will result in a long prison sentence for Howard, so, in return for the brothers’ getting rid of Martin Burns, Uncle Howard will give the two the money that they so desperately need. They have three weeks to do the deed while their uncle is away on a business venture.
Like Judah Rosenthal in Crimes and Misdemeanors the two brothers are shocked by their uncle’s offer. They stew and debate the issue, dreading the act which they know will be “crossing a line” from which there will be no turning back. Their struggle with their moral compunctions takes much longer than Judah’s in the earlier film, and the aftermath of their decision is far more agonizing to them, especially in the case of Terry. Although many critics have been dismissive of writer/director Allen’s serious movie, I found it compelling, even if, as one charged, it is “warmed over Dostoevski.” I’ll take this any day to most of the movie pap out there, even though I long for the Woody Allen of what now seems his golden age (1969 through 1989). Writer Allen might have long ago given up belief in the God of the psalmist, but in this film he still seems to share the Psalmist’s belief in a moral order that entraps the wicked.
1) What are the dreams of the two brothers for their future? How can a dream be both an inspiration for one’s life and also a danger? Would a touch of contentment have helped?
2) Compare the two brothers. Which seems to have the strongest conscience? How do they rationalize what they are about to do?
3) How does Uncle Howard turn out to be what not what they thought he was? He always seemed to be generous: could this have been a way for him to salve his conscience over his shady dealings? He uses the argument of family blood, but does he stick to this when Ian tells him of guilt-wracked Terry’s intention?
4) Compare Kate and Angela. Which of the two might be closer to Uncle Howard and his values? Remember what the latter replies to Ian’s question of whether she might sleep with a director to obtain a part in a movie?
5) Does your respect for Terry increase because of his final intention? How does even Ian show that he has scruples, that there is a line which he does not want to cross? What do you think of the ending—an admission that there is something about the universe which abhors wickedness (see Psalm 9). Compare this ending with that of Crimes and Misdemeanors.