Synopsis – A teenager’s adventures as a bounty hunter take an unexpected twist.
My Take – Ever since I witnessed her star making performance in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, like most, I have remained a Margot Robbie purist. While the Australian actress further proved her mettle with onscreen roles in films like Focus, Suicide Squad, I, Tonya, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Bombshell among others, of late she has also been gaining reputation and traction as a producer for her offbeat selection of projects.
Hence it was a little strange when I realized this Miles Joris-Peyrafitte directed 2019 holdover was a project I knew nothing about until a couple of weeks ago when its trailer dropped online. But obviously with Robbie’s name attached to the project I decided to give it a go, after all who doesn’t want to see her as an outlaw on the run? A concept which has been a fertile ground for filmmakers over many years.
Woefully, director Joris-Peyrafitte‘s peculiar little film does not reinvent the wheel, and is instead a somewhat forgettable coming-of-age crime tale with an idealistic heart and copious amounts of style but a clichéd narrative. For the most part, writer Nicolaas Zwart’s screenplay is original, but is unfocused and unrefined, and most certainly borrows from plenty of other films, with the most obvious being Arthur Penn‘s Oscar nominated classic Bonnie and Clyde (1969).
Leaving the always wonderful Margot Robbie and some decent depression-era set cinematography to be the only saving graces for this tedious, slow-moving affair, which joins the long list of major 2020 cinematic disappointments.
Set during the Great Depression, a time when families of homesteaders staked their claims on their own private pieces of dirt field lands in Texas, the story is narrated by a grown up Phoebe Evans (Lola Kirke), who recounts the story of her half-brother Eugene (Finn Cole), who at the age of 17, reluctantly finds himself still trapped in the crude cabin his birth father built, bullied by the tough, resentful and mean-spirited local police deputy George Evans (Travis Fimmel), who his mother Olivia (Kerry Condon) remarried, and a baby sister named Phoebe (Darby Camp) who adores her stepbrother and serves as a silent witness to his growing misery.
Eugene dreams of fleeing the Dust Bowl for greener pastures in Mexico where his real father apparently lives, but has no idea how to do it until fate connects him with Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), the featured star of a most-wanted poster with a gunshot wound in her thigh and a $10,000 reward on her head.
He hides her in the deserted barn with a plan to turn her in, claim the reward money and seize the chance to finance a flight to freedom from his humdrum life. But she swears she didn’t kill anyone and rationalizes the bank robbery by blaming the government for letting people suffer hard times. Eugene may or may not buy her story, but he recognizes this is the most excitement he’s likely to ever have in his life plus, he has begun to fall in love with her.
The script by Nicolaas Zwart is serviceable. However, several shortcomings stop the film from realizing its full potential. The main relationship, both subtle and complex, changes the lives of everyone on screen while remaining stubbornly unconvincing.
The first half of the film concentrates on Eugene’s transformation from unsophisticated ignorance to social awareness and political relevance, framed by the turbulence of a violent Texas sandstorm. But the film goes awry in the second section, when director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte dices up the narrative into different time frames that wreak havoc on continuity.
The result is not always coherent, and the final shoot-out is too clumsy to generate much impact. The result making everything else seem uneven, largely because of the inert direction as well as a muted screenplay that would have benefited from a bit of tweaking. Mostly, the film suffers from a lack of perspective and focus.
The film begins as Eugene’s story, his search for himself and his destiny, but as soon as Allison enters the picture, her narrative is more heavily incorporated. Though the film aims to be a love story, it doesn’t really work because Allison is so consistently dishonest with Eugene that they never really form a bond until very late in the film. And even then, I didn’t fully trust her actions or motivations.
There are also a selection of threads resembling Eugene’s relationship with his youthful sister that could have been powerful basis for the film’s emotional core, but the both Zwart and director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte never fully explore it.
Visually, the film is a treat. While the narrative is too scattered to leave a lasting impression, it’s still an achingly beautiful depiction of the American west, with some visually striking and impressively realistic dust storm sequences. Each shot falling over any scene is clearing in greatness and a brutal premonition. Here, cinematographer Lyle Vincent captures the vast emptiness of the Texas plains and his gorgeous shot compositions are filled with inspiration. There is something inherently romantic about how Eugene’s dusty, dying home town is shot and framed or how Allison’s memories are viewed, almost through a hue of nostalgia and regret.
Performance-wise, the film is surprisingly solid. Margot Robbie, as always, is great and she sells Allison’s fragility well while also portraying her manipulative nature, refusing to make her a victim or straightforward villain. Though she is the glamorous centerpiece, she generously turns the film over to impressive newcomer Finn Cole to do the heavy lifting, and does fairly well. His big eyes look innocent enough to convince us of Eugene’s innocence and naivety, even if his character is otherwise bland and has very little personality outside of the necessary traits.
While the supporting characters don’t have much to do here, Travis Fimmel, Kerry Condon, and Darby Camp do their best. I also liked Garrett Hedlund‘s cameo though he has barely any lines. On the whole, ‘Dreamland’ is a shallow crime drama with a narration that is regrettably one-dimensional.
Directed – Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes