WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
At the height of the Great Depression, young Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) has his whole life turned upside down when he encounters a beautiful but notorious bankrobber named Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) hiding in his family’s shed. The step-son of the town’s sheriff, Finn quickly realizes he could bring in a substantial sum of money for his struggling family by turning her in but when the two start forming a romantic bond after she insists on her innocence of at least the most violent charges brought against her, Finn finds himself caught between conflicting loyalties. And that’s before she makes him an enticing offer from which there is really no turning back.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
A slow-burning mix of romance, Southern noir, crime-thriller and coming-of-age drama, Dreamland is perhaps not the easiest sell to mainstream audiences, but it has plenty to recommend it. Certainly, fans of Terence Malick’s classic, Badlands, (but perhaps not its trashier and more exploitative unofficial remake, Natural Born Killers), will particularly appreciate what the film has to offer.
Directed by relative newcomer, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, and written by the similarly green-around-the-ears, Nicolaas Zwart, Dreamland no doubt has its flaws but it’s also an incredibly assured piece of work that should act as an excellent calling card for them both. Aided by ace cinematography by Lyle Vincent, evocative production-design, and a brace of strong performances, they have crafted a film that may hold little interest to those looking for something that moves, thrills or excites, but rewards those willing to embrace its slow, old-fashioned storytelling.
And make no mistake, it is slow. The thread-bare plot unfolds at a snail’s pace with moments of tension punctuating the drama but never really moving it beyond its slow and steady march. There is, however, something entrancing, almost hypnotic about the way it takes its time to reach an endpoint that seems unavoidable from the minute that Eugene first comes across this gorgeous outlaw bleeding out in his family shed. And with a running time that doesn’t even crack the 100-minute mark, it doesn’t ask to hold your attention for too long.
There are no major twists or surprises here but, in the best noir tradition, a grim inevitability to the proceedings that builds in intensity with each passing encounter between our two (anti?) heroes. The joy of a good noir story has never really been about the mechanics of the plot, which are almost without fail, formulaic and obvious, but about that strangely compelling aspect of human nature that stubbornly refuses to listen to our better angels - not least when matters of the heart (or organs of a more southerly location) are concerned. Whether it’s Sin City, Bonnie and Clyde, or the Long Goodbye, we know where this particular story must always go at least in its broadest strokes.
The true success of a great noir story, then, has less to do with the story it’s telling than in how it tells that story and whether it makes your care about its flawed characters. Dreamland doesn’t always succeed in the latter as it is the film’s femme fatale – another exceptional performance by Margot Robbie – rather than our nominal hero who most holds both our attention and our sympathy. As Eugene, Finn Cole is solid but the character just isn’t quite interesting enough or sympathetic enough to really make us care.
And, yes, this prototypical slice of America is headed up by an Aussie and a Brit. Go figure.
What really makes Dreamland work (as far as it does work) is in its impressive attention to detail. This is hardly the first noir movie to trade the shady streets of LA or New York for something more rustic nor is it the first to trade the gum-shoe detective for someone far more innocent but the way it cloaks its genre’s more obvious tropes in a world of raging sandstorms, strange penniless sideshow acts and Southern accents is really quite beautifully handled. There is also a tenderness to the film that rather flies in the face of its hard-boiled narrative with a convincing romance at its centre that often plays out more like one of those sad-sack, "anti-love-story" indie movies than a traditional crime film.
It’s these little touches that elevates Dreamland and fends off much of the tedium of its familiar story and slow pace. It still certainly isn’t for everyone and I can’t see myself ever rushing off to watch it again but there is something about its peculiar genre bending and its off-kilter but elegiac atmosphere that makes it worth checking out. And if these don’t do it, then another storming performance from Margot Robbie really should.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Dreamland is now showing in cinemas.