Review: In Dreams (1999)


Director: Neil Jordan

Starring: Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., Aidan Quinn

Release Date: 30th April 1999

It was billed as an 18 rated thriller about a woman who sees visions that may help catch a child killer and, ironically, this is a movie that perhaps worked a whole lot better in the head of its director than it does on screen. In Dreams was watched with high expectations considering the stellar cast, but here’s why you may not have heard much of it until now…

If you have watched The Lovely Bones imagine a precursor to that – something less polished, a bit rougher around the edges that just feels not quite finished. This is a movie built on a compelling premise; Annette Bening is the Mom whose already pressured relationship with her cheating pilot Husband is pushed to breaking point when their Daughter dies. Even worse, the grieving mother gets visions of what she believes is the killer; visions which may help the police track down their child’s abductor and save another before it’s too late. However, the execution was lacking clear direction and the necessary exposition to bring with it the impact it deserved.

Coming just before American Beauty, this was a nice vehicle to promote Bening’s versatility, as she embodies the spirit of a woman who gradually loses the fight against her own sanity. She pulls it off a remarkable and convincing performance, though it does get a little bit cliched crazy towards the end. The same cannot be said for Robert Downey Jr., who luckily escaped playing to type as his troubled killer comes across like an obsessed Buffalo Bill fan. If widening your eyes and speaking as monotonic as possible was enough to pull off crazy then we’d all be winning Oscars.

In 1992 director Neil Jordan won the Academy Award for penning The Crying Game, and clearly anticipated In Dreams as being his Memento, with a screenplay that plays with time, jumping around between past, present and future to present us all the facts but in a manner in which we still cannot piece them together. This is a tricky game to play which in this case resulted in a chaotic splurge of scenes that were so out of sync it felt more like we were watching something that never should have made it out of the cutting room. Maybe it was a great movie, but a lack of cohesion and suitable care for the audience was an irreparable distraction.

The ending was very Cape Fear, or at least that’s all I can recall as the loud noises and the screeching of an annoyingly insane Annette Bening shattered my ever-deepening slumber. Maybe I’m missing something totally meta and post-modern, but the only thing In Dreams achieved was inciting them from its audience.

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