When most cinema goers think about Margot Robbie and her career they think of her huge roles – playing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad or of course playing Jane in Tarzan. What many over look is the power of her performances in some of her smaller films that she has made along the way though. Her portrayal of the ‘last female on Earth’ in Z For Zachariah and now once again she brings her A-Game to crime period piece Dreamland.
I will admit that I knew nothing about Dreamland when I was heading into the film, and I certainly was not expecting a slow-burn crime thriller that was reminiscent of the work of the talented Kelly Reichardt. So good is that film director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte has now made my ‘must see film list’ and I am currently trying to hunt down his debut feature, As You Are, for a viewing as soon as possible as well.
Set in Texas in the 1930s Dreamland follows the Evans family who are doing it tough in a town that is constantly hit by violent storms. With their farm not able to produce crops Eugene (Finn Cole – Peaky Blinders) and his mother, Olivia (Kerry Condon – Avengers: Infinity War), were further devastated when Eugene’s father suddenly took off – supposedly for Mexico.
Eugene has always fantasised about going to find his father especially seeing as he now doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his step-father – local Sheriff’s Deputy George Evans (Travis Fimmel – Vikings). It feels like the only thing keeping him in Texas is that he helps look after younger sister, Phoebe (Darby Camp – The Christmas Chronicles).
The Evans family’s life is changed forever though when Eugene suddenly meets Allison Wells (Margot Robbie – The Wolf Of Wall Street), an outlaw on the run wanted for bank robbery and murder. While George desperately gets the town to hunt her down Allison tells Eugene that she is being framed for the murder side of things and begs him to help her.
Dreamland could easily have become a film full of clichés but I felt what saved that from happening is the directing style of Joris-Peyrafitte who refrains from this becoming just another ‘crime period piece’ like Lawless by working well with cinematographer Lyle Vincent (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) and giving the film a unique visual style. Together the pair not only bring a beauty to the Texan landscape but deliver Reichardt-like scenes with two character conversing while one is frame and the other cannot be seen.
The film’s screenplay also holds steady throughout. The plot never gives away it shouldn’t too early meaning that the film maintains its suspense throughout. Screenwriter Nicolaas Zwart (Riverdale) keeps the audience guessing to whether or not Allison is telling the truth or not about framed, and as Eugene is set up in such a way that the audience likes him from the get go you find yourself constantly afraid that she is going to break his heart.
Likewise even the secondary characters are never made to appear clichéd. George Evans could easily have been portrayed as your stereo-typical tough father-like figure who has it in for his step-son. But that is never the case here, yes Eugene sees him as hard on him but the audience can easily see through the teenage angst and come to realise that George is not the character that he is portrayed to be.
That screenplay also leads to some amazing acting performances. Finn Cole announces himself as an actor who can now carry a film, his scenes with Margot Robbie are intense and the two play off each other with a natural ease. Also taking a huge step up here is Travis Fimmel who just like he did in Lean On Pete shows that he clearly has a career outside of Vikings.
This Covid 2020 keeps giving us genuine cinematic surprises and Dreamland is certainly one of them. Gritty and alternative in style this is the film that has given us one of the directional finds of the year.