The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - DREAMLAND | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - DREAMLAND

New to Netflix - DREAMLAND
In Depression era Texas, a teenage boy falls for a female bandit.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Starring: Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel, Kerry Condon, Darby Camp, Lola Kirke, Garrett Hedlund

dreamland poster

The gun-toting gangsters of Depression era America have been mythologised, de-mythologised and re-mythologised to such a degree that it's difficult for a film set in this milieu to present us with a fresh take. Even at the time, whether the likes of Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde et al were Robin Hood types who stole from the banks that had screwed over working class America or simply sociopathic monsters depended on the publications you read. Such characters had become legends long before their inevitable deaths in hails of police bullets.

dreamland review

As such, director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's Dreamland brings practically nothing new to this particular table. Even its gender reversal fails to raise an eyebrow, as this genre is already stuffed with depictions of female criminals, from Joseph H. Lewis's Gun Crazy to Lewis Teague's John Sayles scripted The Lady in Red, not to mention Faye Dunaway's iconic turn as Bonnie Parker.

It's Lewis's film that Dreamland seems most influenced by. As with that film, here we have an innocent young man willingly led astray by a glamorous female mobster. It's 1935 Texas, and 17-year-old Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) lives a dreary life, his dreams as untenable as the storm-ravaged land he lives on is untillable. Eugene escapes through pulp magazines into the world of gunslingers and bank robbers, a world that lands on his doorstep when he finds fugitive Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) hiding out in his family's abandoned barn. Enamoured by her beauty and aura of danger and excitement, Eugene helps patch up the bullet wound in Allison's leg and allows her to stay in the barn, sneaking food and even one of his mother's dresses to the bandit. When Allison promises him a reward of $20,000 if he can get her across the Mexican border, Eugene sees a chance to finally escape his dreary life. He's also fallen madly in love with Allison.

dreamland review

Where Dreamland does stand out somewhat is in its ambiguity regarding Allison. Much like 1961's Whistle Down the Wind, in which a young Hayley Mills finds a fugitive in her family's barn who could either be Jesus Christ or a hardened criminal, so too does Dreamland hold back on revealing Allison's true nature. Her last bank robbery, carried out with her now dead lover (Garrett Hedlund), left five people dead, including a young girl. As Allison tells it, the girl was killed by a police bullet when the gung-ho cops opened fire, but we only have her word for it.

Otherwise, this is a formulaic Depression era lovers-on-the-run thriller. Robbie's charisma and star-power goes a long way to convincing us of her character's mythical aura and why a teenage boy would fall for her charms. Young English actor Cole is impressive in his first American leading role, conveying the aww shucks naivete of a boy with a sheltered life. Several scenes are snatched from the adult stars by child actress Darby Camp as Eugene's precocious little sister, Phoebe, who also narrates the film as a Lola Kirke voiced adult. The narration is pointless, of the sort that mostly just tells us what we can see for ourselves playing out on screen. It also doesn't make much logical sense, as Phoebe narrates episodes she wasn't present to witness. Are we to assume then that much of the film is the product of a child's imagination, and if so, why does she at one point dream up a sex scene involving her own brother?

dreamland review

Dreamland is a polished work, with Rockwellian images of rural Texas courtesy of cinematographer Lyle Vincent and a moody twangy score by Patrick Higgins. It's perhaps a little too polished, as even when its characters are covered in dust they still look too clean and healthy for dustbowl denizens. Dreamland is most interesting when it momentarily diverts away from its main plot-line to offer us little glimpses of rural Texan life, the standout sequence involving a thigh-slapping performance by an elderly musician who uses his body as a human drum kit. Such touches make Dreamland a mildly satisfying curio for anyone with an interest in this period of American history.

Dreamland is on Netflix UK/ROI now.