MA15+, 101 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
Two attractive young people on the run from the law is a movie journey many of us have long loved to sign up to. All aboard with Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise and countless others, from the heroes on the other side of the law in True Romance to A Bout de Souffle to Read My Lips.
Earlier this year Queen & Slim brought the ‘lovers on the run’ formula into the present with its two black American leads in a blend of romance, road movie and crime thriller.
an engaging, if familiar, exercise when people work masks and the land ‘turned on them’
Dreamland is set in the mid-1930s, the era when two memorable movie outlaws, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, were of course on the loose too. Who can forget the chutzpah that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty brought to their characters in the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde? Or the slow motion blood-spattered finale when the pair were gunned down by police?
We don’t believe we’ve heard of the main characters in Dreamland before, Allison Wells and Eugene Evans. They are played by Australian actor Margot Robbie, one of the producers, and British actor Finn Cole (from TV’s Peaky Blinders).
The camera always loves Robbie, who is of course the star, but Cole is touching as the impressionable young man who falls for her. Despite the price on her head after being involved in a bank robbery that left five people dead.
Eugene joins the bounty hunters and searches high and low. If he found Allison Wells and won the $10,000 bounty, he would leave Texas behind. There isn’t much for him there and he isn’t happy at home on the farm with his mother, young half-sister and stepfather.
The nineteen-year-old has no job and likes to lose himself in illustrated detective story magazines. It is his dream to travel to Mexico, the place where his father was last heard of.
Rural Texas in the 1930s Great Depression was a pitiless place. Over-grazing and severe drought had degraded the great South Plains region, the agricultural heartland, and brought it to its knees. Not only was there chronic unemployment and desperate poverty, but dust storms of biblical proportions that swept across the broken land.
Allison turns up, not unpredictably, in the barn on the family farm. She has a bullet in her slim thigh, that she took at the bank during the recent encounter with the police. It is a handy spot to draw attention to, and when she asks Eugene to help her take it out and treat the wound, the wide-eyed young man can hardly say no.
The seductive fugitive has the attributes and the wiles of a femme fatale, when she puts her mind to it, and she needs help to get out of her predicament. As the occasional narrator observes, Allison would tell her story with her audience in mind, and make adjustments accordingly.
Even though Allison had turned up in the maw of the law, that is the barn of Eugene’s step-dad, Deputy Sheriff George Evans, she can talk her way out of it too.
The film’s villain, the pugnacious deputy sheriff, is played by Travis Fimmel, another Australian. He sports a brutal pudding bowl haircut and reads the riot act to Eugene while skinning a rabbit.
This Depression-era story was written by Nicolaas Zwart and directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, who has been an award-winning director at Sundance.
It’s an engaging but too familiar exercise. Despite the strong performances and the insights into another time and place when people wore masks and the land ‘turned on them’.
There is a lot to like about the cinematography by Lyle Vincent, from the interesting drone angles, camera angles and subjective images framed like the old box camera. The location shots of mountainous dust storms billowing above the dustbowl, look just like photographs of the 1930s dust storm events themselves. They are not the product of the filmmakers’ imagination.
The story is bookended and intermittently narrated by folksy voiceover from Eugene’s younger sister Phoebe, when she is all grown-up. She is seen here played by Darby Camp, another good performance, as his pesky kid sister.
Dreamland adds little if anything to a familiar genre story. A screenplay with more zest to it, or a twist in the tale would have made a difference.
First published in the Canberra Times on 20 December 2020
Featured image: Margot Robbie in Dreamland