The grimy distant child of Dees Rees’s Mudbound and John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen (2019), Dreamland sees actor Finn Cole trade his Peaky Blinders flat cap and 1920s Birmingham for the wastelands of Texas, as he partners up with Margot Robbie in an American time capsule thriller. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s film is overflowing with star power and golden hour sunsets – it has all the key tenets of an award-winning drama, but Dreamland must bring something daring to the ride, or risk the road to success being obscured by the dust storm of comparable predecessors.
Growing up in the Dust Bowl, Eugene Evans (Cole) dreams of a more exciting existence than that his mother (Kerry Condon) and ruthless step-father (Travis Fimmel) can provide on their desolate, fruitless farm. He is waiting for an excuse to embark on an adventure, having been raised on stories of his father’s antics and disappearance to Mexico. Enter seductive fugitive Allison Wells (Robbie), who, on being discovered in a barn, promises Eugene payment in return for his help getting her out of the country, sealing his signature and trust in the process. For Eugene, a thrill is on the horizon, but little does he truly understand of the dangers of forming an allegiance with a desperado.
Standing out immediately in this film is the beautiful cinematography: visionary camerawork rivalling Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven douses the viewer in a stylish wash of rustic colour and a full assemblage of cinematic techniques. In the foreground stand Cole and Robbie, the former proving a likeable leading man, embittered by his upbringing but with an innocent twinkle in his eye. Margot Robbie is magical as the wild and alluring outlaw Allison. Her versatility as an actress has been hitherto relatively untested, but this character presents a new challenge, and she is not actually at fault for its shortcomings. Unusually, a longer duration might have proved beneficial, giving the viewer the opportunity to get to know the character of Allison Wells better. Without significant character exploration, there’s arguably something missing – one more subplot to put a little more meat on the bones of the narrative. Instead, the film suffers at the hands of on-the-nose dialogue early on, driving the story forward at unnecessary speed and thus proceeding to fire blanks in the relationship-building chapters. The only twists and turns come from the comedic performance of young actress Darby Camp as Eugene’s guiltless sister Phoebe, who sprinkles humour where she can.
Rees’s Mudbound was maligned by some as being slow and uneventful, but its magic came from the continuous underlying racial tension and sinister emotional strain that ran through the core of its main characters. In the instance of Dreamland, the story is quite simple and apathetic, crying out for a sense of peril to befall Cole and Robbie, and ultimately making for rather underwhelming Bonnie and Clyde-esque viewing. The soundtrack and score are also curious, at times mismatched with the drama unfolding on screen, and in some scenes missing the tone of the dialogue and ambiance completely.
Viewers of Dreamland will want the film to be greater than it is, but this is not Robbie’s first rodeo and it certainly won’t be her last. She will be linking up with Joris-Peyrafitte again in the near future for the proposed Tank Girl movie, so the duo will get another shot at glory. It isn’t fair to compare movies within a genre but, because of the writing, in this instance it’s incredibly difficult not to.
Dreamland is released nationwide on 11th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Dreamland here: