Movie review / ‘Dreamland’ (MA)

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Margot Robbie in “Dreamland”.

Dreamland (MA) *** and a half

IN the mid 1930s, life in America’s west was tough from every aspect, graphically described in “The Grapes of Wrath”, John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel made into a movie that in 1941 got four Oscar nominations and two wins, one of which went to director John Ford.

In 1968, Arthur Penn’s movie about bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who made headlines until gunned down in May, 1934, by Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Ben Gault, won six Oscars including Best Picture.

Both those precedents were running through my mind as I watched Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s fictional movie.

Its principal character is Allison, an attractive young woman with a bounty on her head after she and her boyfriend robbed a bank in a small Texas town. The screenplay by Nicolaas Zwart keeps us waiting to meet her while it introduces 21-year-old Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) whose relationship with his father George (Travis Fimmel) is getting rocky. In 1935, Eugene’s sister Phoebe (Darby Camp) yet to reach puberty, observes what’s happening; three decades later, a narrator speaks Phoebe’s reminiscences.

The environment is a significant component of “Dreamland”. In 1935, Texas was in its worst drought on record, a dust bowl landscape with brown, sparse vegetation. The Great Depression was blighting economies all around the globe. People in communities like the one portrayed in the film had few material or emotional comforts.

Some people thought they could solve their financial problems by robbing local small banks.

For example, Allison and her partner. He dies early in the film in a shoot-out. We next see her lying in a barn on the Evans’s small farm bleeding from a bullet wound in her thigh. When Eugene discovers her, he wants only to be helpful by removing it.

In Eugene, she sees safety and a drive across the border to Mexico. Those options combine to become the film’s main dramatic thread, more than a chase, something of a romance, precursors of an outcome that could go either way.

Topping a convincing supporting cast, “Dreamland” most of all belongs to Allison, played by Queensland–born Margot Robbie with striking depth and projection of the character’s unspoken underlying personal objectives. It’s her fortieth role in feature films and TV series that began in 2008 when she was 18. With 103 nominations for peer-group and audience awards, she has won 20. She’s also a popular guest on TV talk shows.

In a profession that depends on how people look, her portrayal of Allison manifests acting equal to the best and gives no weight to that criterion. With seven feature movies currently in the pipeline, her prospects are enticing.

At all cinemas

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Dreamland (MA) *** and a half
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