THE STORY – A teen bounty hunter is torn between helping or capturing a seductive fugitive bank robber hiding in his small town during the Great Depression.
THE CAST – Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel, Kerry Condon, Darby Camp & Lola Kirke
THE TEAM – Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (Director) & Nicolaas Zwart (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
Part coming-of-age story and part Neo-Western, “Dreamland” is a tale of legend and myth, charming criminals and stern lawmen, and one boy’s desire to escape his small Texas town. Phoebe (voiced by Lola Kirke) looks back on events that happened in 1935 and tries to set the record straight about her older half-brother Eugene (Finn Cole). But even she isn’t exactly sure what happened and the whole film carries a sort of memory-like haziness. While Nicholaas Zwart’s screenplay isn’t completely up to par with the film’s visuals and performances, “Dreamland” is an impressive second film from director Miles Joris-Peyrafittle.
The film gives a first-hand look at the difficult lives of those living in Texas during the Dust Bowl from the financial devastation to the ominous dust storms. Eugene’s father walked out on his family and headed to Mexico when he was only a young boy and his stern stepfather George (Travis Fimmel) and he are often at odds. Eugene steals books about fictional outlaws from the town store and teases his younger sister (Darby Camp), who is adorable but not annoyingly precocious as kids in this type of role often are. His easy affection for his little sister and best friend win the audience over to him quickly.
But it’s Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) who arrives “like a bat out of hell” in the town who supplies much of the film’s energy. Wells is a wanted bank robber with a high price on her head and when Eugene stumbles across her, he thinks he’s got his ticket out of Texas. But even bloody and sweaty, Robbie’s charm shines through and she convinces him that she’s not the killer everyone says she is. After an intense scene with a bullet removal, the unlikely pair begin to bond. Allison is clearly manipulating Eugene and yet the audience is as much under her spell as he is. Robbie’s accent work is as reliable as usual and her beautiful costumes add an element of glamour even when they’re bloodstained. There’s a scene of her alone in a barn that proves once again that she’s one of the most talented working actresses.
While Eugene is seduced by Allison’s beauty, the film itself is almost as stunning to look at. There are gorgeous shots of the plains and little clips of the beach in Mexico that Eugene dreams of, edited to resemble an old photograph or piece of film. Many Depression-era films fall into the cliché of a muted and grey color palette, but “Dreamland” mixes the browns of the dust storms with vibrant blues. The editing and framing are creative at times, but never so much as to become distracting.
The film attempts an exploration of deception versus reality, the stories that are told as opposed to what actually occurred. It doesn’t fully land, but it’s clever in its use of darkness and light to emphasize the idea especially in the scene in which we first meet Allison. We also see one pivotal scene multiple times, with more details filled in from another character’s perspective, and while it could feel hokey, it works well. In contrast, there is one completely earnest thing in the film and that’s Cole’s portrayal of Eugene’s boyish determination, naivete, and longing for something more.
“Dreamland” obviously bears influences from director Terrence Malick and the legendary “Bonnie and Clyde.” Unfortunately, it fails to make its love story believable and the romantic scenes are its downfall. It’s never made clear why a glamorous woman like Allison would be interested in a teenage country boy and the pair lacks the chemistry to pull it off as fantastic as they are individually. It’s much better as a coming-of-age film than as a romance and the film suffers from not being aware of that. But the film is saved by its visuals and performances. The stunning final shot of “Dreamland” will stay with me for some time, even if the film isn’t quite profound enough to match it.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A charismatic performance from Margot Robbie and stunning visuals of Dust Bowl-era Texas.