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With: Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Katie Sagona, Paul Guilfoyle, Kathleen Langlois, Dennis Boutsikaris, Prudence Wright Holmes, Krystal Benn, Pamela Payton-Wright, Margo Martindale
Written by: Neil Jordan, Bruce Robinson, based on a novel by Bari Wood
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: R for violence/terror and language
Running Time: 99
Date: 01/15/1999
IMDB

In Dreams (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Apples and Lemons

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Dreams is writer/director Neil Jordan's follow up to The Butcher Boy, which I selected as the best movie of 1998. So I admit I had high expectations for this movie.

Both movies deal with kinds of madness and the kind of loneliness that can cause someone to kill. In Dreams is very competently done, but it lacks the glee and energy of Jordan's last movie. In The Butcher Boy Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens) slowly goes mad after losing his parents and his best friend. Jordan jumped fearlessly into the material, taking us on a wild ride and finding the humor and magic in the sad situation, but without ever cheating us or losing the tone. In Dreams, on the other hand, pretty much falls into the bin with the many other serial killer movies made recently. It's better than most of them, but doesn't reach the depth of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or the style of Seven (1995).

Annette Bening plays illustrator Claire Cooper, a woman who experiences disturbingly detailed dreams. She sees children kidnapped and killed and gets glimpses of the killer. Her husband Paul (Adian Quinn) is an airline pilot who is rarely home and who quickly loses patience with his wife's visions. Their daughter Rebecca (Katie Sagona) prepares for her role as the magic mirror in the school play, Snow White. It isn't until Rebecca is kidnapped that Claire realizes that her visions are premonitions.

The shock of losing her daughter causes Claire to drive her car into a reservoir. She wakes up in a hospital and a friendly psychiatrist (Stephen Rea, a regular in Jordan's movies) tries to make sense of her dreams. The killer, it turns out, is Vivian Thompson (Robert Downey Jr.), an escaped mental patient who somehow connected his thoughts to Claire's dreams, so that she can see what he's doing.

In Dreams does a very good job of creating an atmosphere. The movie opens with the story of a ghost town purposefully flooded and turned into a reservoir. Apples are also prominent, in the Snow White play and in many of Claire's dreams (Vivian hides out in an abandoned apple packing plant). Both water and apples are used as death symbols, and, against the colorful New England autumn, the whole picture reeks of death. It's photographed by the talented Darius Khondji, who shot Seven, as well as The City of Lost Children (1995), and Alien Resurrection (1997). Unfortunately, this atmosphere is almost all that the movie has to go on. There is little actual suspense -- just a few cheap scares. And things are allowed to drag on a little long before the movie finally collapses into a typical brawl between Claire and Vivian.

Bening is very good, as usual, and jumps into her mental breakdown with vigor. Downey is also very good as the recluse, except that he is given inane taunts instead of dialogue at the climax. The screenplay is by Bruce Robinson (The Killing Fields and Withnail and I), who adapted it with Jordan from Bari Wood's novel Doll's Eyes. Doll's Eyes would have been a better title. Prepositional phrases like In Dreams suggest laxness and passivity and, in this case, that's apt. Besides, David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) has already co-opted Roy Orbison's song "In Dreams" for all time.

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