Say what you will about Woody Allen, but even his most stern detractors will have to admit that he has a real affinity for a certain milieu. Bluntly put, no filmmaker has captured the foibles and peculiarities of Upper West Side Jewish intellectuals and would-be intellectuals as Allen. He knows that world as well as John Ford knew a
Understandably, Allen has chosen in the last several years to move away from that world, both literally and artistically. First he began to branch out to include other precincts of the entertainment world, then the recent past and, most recently,
Because his focus in his
Terry (Colin Farrell) is an auto mechanic, Ian (Ewan McGregor) aspires to be a dealmaker but right now is managing their father’s restaurant, little more than a diner. Both the brothers and their parents are in the thrall of Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), a globe-trotting doctor with a chain of plastic surgery clinics. Howard is who Ian wants to be. Terry’s ambitions are smaller, but he is a compulsive gambler and hard drinker. When Uncle Howard shows up with a dilemma involving a business associate who is planning rat him out to the authorities over financial improprieties, he asks his nephews to dispose of the problem.
What Allen seems to have in mind here is a classic film noir, with a dark, fate-driven plot in which everyone suffers regardless of their degree of culpability. The title, which is the name of a boat Terry and Ian buy at the beginning of the film, suggests the kind of fatalistic downward spiral Allen has in mind.
The problem is that Allen has no feeling for the blue-collar world he has chosen as his setting. The problem starts with the casting of the leads: McGregor and Farrell are both too charismatic to be convincing as doomed losers and hapless dreamers. The fact that neither of them is exactly believable as a Cockney doesn’t help but that is the least of the film’s problems. Allen simply has no idea how these people talk or think or behave; the relationships between the brothers and their parents, between the parents and Howard, are clichés gleaned from too many late nights re-reading John Osborne and Arnold Wesker.
Allen lacks the visual control necessary to give the film the driven, paranoiac quality of classic noir. Except for the actual murder, which is competently staged, the film is too slack visually to work either as a suspense piece or as an exercise in the working out of inexorable destinies. The result is a long, hard slog that never rings true. It may be time for Woody to come home.