This week’s film is"Dreamland" which is available on various streaming services including Amazon Prime, and in select theaters. "Dreamland" stars Margo Robbie as Allison Wells, a bank robber in the dust bowl of Texas during the depression. After a bank heist goes all wrong and five people including a little girl are killed, Allison is forced into hiding and a $10,000 bounty is offered for her capture. The bounty is a potential life line for the area’s impoverished farmers fighting to survive in dying small towns after their fields have run dry and barren from successive beatings by dust and drought.
When a kid named Eugene from one such small farm in a one such dying town goes out to his barn one day, he’s more likely to find ET than a gorgeous bank robber hiding in the hay. But this is Eugene’s lucky day. Eugene, played by Finn Cole, has long dreamed of escaping his miserable existence through inspiration from comic books and a single postcard from his father who abandoned the family for Mexico one night in a drunken rage. Forced to decide between the bounty and running away with Allison, Eugene doesn’t exactly need time to think it over.
And that’s the problem with the film – everything is pretty obvious. "Dreamland" is neither a new take on the bank robber getaway trope nor a feminist reboot of the western outlaw hero. Predictable plot lines develop quicker than the next dust storm, including multiple near miss discovery of the villain in the barn, the curious wit of a smart-aleck younger sister, and the friendship Eugene must simultaneously exploit and leave behind. The real star of the film what is on screen- the film itself is visually stunning thanks to cinematographer Lyle Vincent, best known for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. However, truncated scenes and awkward dialogue fail to develop empathy for any of the characters. As a result, the film’s period authenticity is better measured by reference to photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans rather than powerful character driven films like Days of Heaven or Grapes of Wrath.
So, as we return to the start of ski season and my ski trail rating system, Dreamland earns my intermediate blue ski trail rating. Although several small scenes are well-executed, too many leaps of logic required by a lackluster script deprive the characters from gaining any traction with the audience. Even on the back [or front] of Margo Robbie’s star power, a cheap shower scene is too little too late to satisfy even the shallowest of fans. In the end, more than a dust storm left me with a bad taste in the mouth.
"Dreamland" is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language, and a rabbit was definitely harmed in the making of this film.
This is Mark Harrington for KPCW’s Friday Film Review.