On paper “Dreamland” seems like it would be a perfect fit.
Margot Robbie in a period piece playing half of a Bonnie and Clyde-type duo. Images of Robbie donning a fedora and toting a Tommy gun may come to mind, imagining the actress shooting her way out of a bank or from the back of a getaway car. What we actually get, though, is a deliberately paced drama about a young man wanting to escape life on his family’s farm in the drought-stricken planes of Texas and find something more.
Eugene’s (Finn Cole) life on the farm is a boring existence. He and his friend Jo (Stephen Dinh) spend the days talking about the biggest gangsters, reading pulp magazines and dreaming of living the lives of their heroes. Eugene lives with his mother, law enforcement step-father, and sister, but the cliché-ridden relationship he has with his family lacks any depth and only serves to push the plot along. As the main protagonist of the story, there is not much to get the audience invested in Eugene’s fate.
Allison Wells (Robbie) and her bank-robbing partner have been in the news for quite some time with tales of her exploits and murders covering the newspapers. A $10,000 bounty is placed on Wells, and when word gets out that she may be hiding nearby, the town organizes a search party. Eugene sees this as an opportunity to finally secure his ticket away from home, and by the time he sets off to find Wells he’s already counting his reward. Lucky for him, the notorious bank robber just so happens to be hiding in his family’s barn.
Wells has been shot in the leg after a botched robbery and is using the barn to lay low as she recovers. Instead of turning her in right away, Eugene succumbs to her charm, as Wells convinces him to dress her wound and offers $20,000 if he will safely get her into Mexico. Eugene agrees and throughout this process of escorting Wells and keeping her hidden, the two develop a thoroughly unbelievable romance.
“Dreamland” suffers from a number of issues – namely a poorly-written story and painstakingly slow pacing. At the halfway point in the film, it still feels as if there has yet to be any real development of the story. The director, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, very deliberately sets the pace and focuses on escapism through a somewhat melancholic view of the American dream. The filmmakers attempt to elevate the material through editing tricks and by tinkering with the aspect ratios, but unfortunately, the film is so dull their efforts come across as pandering and pretentious.
Robbie is fine in the role as Allison Wells, serving more as the subject of Eugene’s infatuation and desires than a singular character in her own right. Resigning an actress of Robbie’s caliber to a role with such little meaning and importance should be a sin. Supporting Robbie and Cole are are Travis Fimmel, Garrett Hedlund, and Kerry Condon, but no one in the cast really stands out or improves the film in any way.
Throughout the film there is a narrator, voiced by Lola Kirke, who weaves in and out as the now-adult younger sister of Finn recounting the story of the last time she saw her brother. There are many things she was not privy to at the time, making her account somewhat unreliable coming from the eyes of a young girl.
All in all, “Dreamland” is missing a certain level of grit. Joris-Peyrafitte’s efforts are undercut by a thin script with even thinner characters, leaving no substance with which the audience can connect.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.