1999, R, 100 min. Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, Dennis Boutskaris, Paul Guillfoyle.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 15, 1999
Dreams are rarely crystal-clear portents. Images in the sleeper's mind tend toward the vague and confusing, with shadows and fog claiming the lay of the land. The question has to be asked then: Did Neil Jordan, he of the brilliant The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire, and The Butcher Boy intend for this treatise on bad dreams to be so seriously muddled? It was intentional, right? Right? Neil? Intentional murkiness or not, In Dreams is a mess. A gorgeous mess, mind you, but a mess all the same. Like last year's pretty-on-the-outside figment, What Dreams May Come, Jordan's film is a high-gloss exercise in dimestore metaphysics. Unlike that previous film, Jordan couches his dream imagery in the more conventional stylistics of the horror film. Even more conventional (a phrase I certainly never thought I'd use in relation to this director), the horror on parade comes in the form of a serial killer played by Robert Downey Jr. When Claire Cooper (Bening) finds her young daughter mysteriously whisked away to her doom, she rightly posits that this must have some correlation to the bizarre dreams she's been having. Visions of lost children, a large, ramshackle building filled with Granny Smith apples, and water, water everywhere crowd her sleeping and waking dreams. When asked by psychiatrist Dr. Silverman (Jordan mainstay Rea) just how long she's been experiencing these nightmarish fugues, her reply is “all my life.” And yet she's just now seeking psychiatric help? Must be nice. That's just one of the many scurrilous plot holes that threaten to crowd out the real story in Jordan's film, that of Claire's descent into madness after the death of her child. Loss is at the heart of the matter here, and Claire's loss leads her away from the safety net of her family (Quinn plays her cheating airline-pilot husband) and into the nether regions of her mind. Not just her mind, actually, but also that of Downey's mysterious killer, who has some sort of flimsily-explained-away psychic link to the woman. Their dreams mesh, like in The Eyes of Laura Mars, until psychosis is the only viable outcome. For all its creepy imagery and seething, evil set design, In Dreams comes off like a subpar X-Files outing, one minus the Mulder/Scully dynamic, replaced instead by unrelievedly grim doings in a small town. Bening is fine -- she goes off the deep end like nobody's business, but for once Downey falls shy of brilliance. His killer with a past is a whining, mewling misfit, half Buffalo Bob and half Tommy Rugrat. He's all whispers and kvetching. I've seen more threatening wingnuts here on the Drag. Jordan remains a master filmmaker with a keenly original vision -- this one misfire won't change that. Still, with a vision like this one, best to not even look.