Dreamland (2019)

In yet another slow week for high profile releases, I had to wait for Tuesday morning to finally get to something that was vaguely interesting to me. It came in the form of Dreamland, a film whose trailer hinted at Bonnie and Clyde vibes. Having just read a biography of the famous outlaw duo, the idea of jumping straight into another Depression era crime adventure was very appealing.

Set amidst the relentless environment of 1930s Dust Bowl America, Dreamland tells the story of Eugene Evans (Finn Cole), a young man who begins a whirlwind partnership with wanted fugitive Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) after he discovers her hiding in his family barn.

I went into the film with images of Bonnie and Clyde in my head, and whilst the film does not opt for the kind of brassy ‘stick em up’ vibes that that particular pair evoke, it does provide a narrative that is interesting and evocative if not a little but ‘safe’. Give or take a few instances of bad language and some brief nudity, Dreamland would not be out of place on Lifetime, but the very high end of Lifetime, I have to say!

Here’s what I like about the movie. I like that the central force of ‘bad’ in the story is the female in the duo rather than the man. We’ve seen so many examples of ‘girls next door’ getting mixed up with a bad boy before that it was refreshing to see this dynamic flipped on its head here. The story doesn’t go quite as far as I would have liked in terms of highlighting the problematic nature of Allison’s history and her initial intentions with Eugene, instead opting for a sort of schmaltzy romance that doesn’t feel 100% authentic or earned. This aspect of the film is what earns it the Lifetime vibes. A grittier narrative would have stripped that back and portrayed the relationship and power dynamic in a different way, but at the end of the day that’s just my personal preference.

Something that is certainly not Lifetime-esque, however, are some of the visual choices made throughout. The cinematography of Dreamland is actually rather impressive, with the film really being able to translate just how exhausting, oppressive and all round terrible it must have been to live in the Dust Bowl. There is also an interesting switch in the way that the male and female protagonists are shown through the lens, with the ‘gaze’ being much more on Eugene as inexperienced eye candy rather than Allison. The pair share a really interesting and effective shower scene that is almost entirely focused on the male character, which is something I don’t think I’ve really seen before.

Whilst it does execute some interesting ideas, ultimately Dreamland is just a little bit too timid in its overall approach. It has one too many soft edges to be dramatic enough for my personal taste.

Something I didn’t expect was for Margot Robbie not to be the standout performer in Dreamland, but as Eugene Evans, Finn Cole is the MVP for me. Anyone familiar with Peaky Blinders will know of Cole’s talent, and in a softer role here he is really enjoyable and endearing. He is similar to Tom Holland in The Devil All The Time in his ability to play a really likeable young man with a believable darker side, but coming back to my biggest complaint about the film, whereas The Devil All The Time takes its actors to the grittiest places, Dreamland stays very much in the middle ground. Nevertheless, Cole has proven himself a leading man here and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Margot Robbie might not be my MVP, but she certainly does a good job as wanted woman Allison Wells. Again, the depths of the character are really not plunged enough to my liking, with the film not quite being able to walk the tightrope of making a character mysterious but still developed. We don’t know much about Allison and that is intentional, but compared to the relatively rich history we get for Eugene, it leads to a lack of audience connection with the character. What is effective is Robbie’s effortless glamour in the middle of the Dust Bowl depression. It is easy to see why Eugene would be swept away by Allison, and that is important for the fluidity of the plot.

Overall, though I am not fully convinced by Dreamland, there is enough in the film to make it an enjoyable watch. Marketed as a ‘thriller drama’ but much more a romantic drama in my opinion, you won’t get much from the crime element of the film but there is something there for those who like solidly executed period pieces with sweeping cinematography. Not one I’ll remember forever, but certainly not a bad time.

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