Oh, Woody. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When critics began harping that you’d grown too old to be chasing nubile starlets a fraction of your age — especially in light of your unseemly tabloid past, natch! — you moved yourself off camera. Of course that meant that you had to find surrogates to spout your trademark stream of neurotic jibes involving death and jazz, a problem when the words had to come from lesser lips of folks such as Will Ferrell or Jason Biggs. They’re nice boys, certainly, but lack your peculiar comic sparkle. Even your beloved Big Apple has begun to rot; times have changed and you simply couldn’t keep making movies like Melinda and Melinda, about hip young Manhattanites who apparently have never sent a text message, owned an iPod, or preferred Radiohead to Cole Porter. Out of touch, eh?
So you flee the safety of the Upper West Side and decamp to the ivy-covered elegance of Old Blighty to start making intricate, high-class thrillers, as delicate as Agatha Christie’s tea cozy.
First there was the manor-house, tennis-white sophistication of Match Point, then the bespoke Fleet Street hustle of Scoop. Now you’ve taken it back down to the streets with a gritty bit of kitchen-sink melodrama punched up with murder, in this deathlessly wordy, staid and glum little slice of noir, Cassandra’s Dream. You decided to cast two of the most photogenic actors around to play threadbare, scrabbling punters: Scotsman Ewan McGregor, who adopts a proper Michael Caine cockney accent with much greater ease than his Irish co-star, Colin Farrell. One is a mechanic who fancies the dog track and the poker table, and the other a restaurant manager with wanderlust and a taste for flashy cars and ladies above his station. Both are in way over their heads, until their wealthy uncle returns from the colonies, eager to front the cash if only they’ll do him a nasty little favor and tie-up his one loose end.
So, in your infinite wisdom, Mr. Allen, you’ve cast the peerless Tom Wilkinson, only to sparsely use him. For those jackals who say your writing’s too obtuse, you’ve slathered on exposition to explain the plot, so much so that the audience is drowning in it long before the boys take a fateful cruise in the sailboat (christened Cassandra’s Dream).
Most other great directors in your orbit are lucky to turn out a few pictures a decade, but you continue to obsessively crank out a movie each year with the precision of a metronome, whether it’s an idea worth pursuing or not.
So, Woody, because you’ve got to scratch some itch whenever artistic whimsy hits, you’ve made a competent, drab and humorless little genre piece with a tragic end that could’ve been a Alfred Hitchcock Presents leftover. You could’ve made something amazing. While your latest is solid, and good enough to satisfy some, most cranky critics, like the aliens in Stardust Memories, will pine for your better days. And you’ll no doubt just shamble along to the next damned thing. •