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Review: "In Dreams"

February 03, 1999|By JASON MYERS

Any movie in which a woman tries to shove a bushel of apples down the disposal, only to have the apples erupt around her in some effusion of Poe or Dali - red and dense as coagulated blood - cannot be characterized as a tranquil domestic drama.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"In Dreams" is a troubled and troubling movie and probably would be worthless to see, but it was directed by Neil Jordan, a master fantasist whose "The Crying Game" and "The Butcher Boy" are modern grim fairy tales, and it does star Annette Bening, my favorite sexpot, and Robert Downey Jr., my favorite felonious actor.

The woman having trouble digesting the forbidden fruit is Claire Cooper (Bening). She is afflicted by visions of serial child killer Vivian Thompson (Downey), walking with his victims through an apple orchard. Jordan escalates the horror of dreams into the horror of reality when Claire's daughter is kidnapped by Vivian.

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Jordan's style could not be compared to Hitchcock's, whose mastery was of the mundane. He succeeded in transforming ordinary people into furrows of anxiety and dread. Jordan, as the title of the movie affirms, works at the pace and in the colors - cool greens and burnished reds - of dreams.

The misfortune of working in surrealism is that it is impossible to develop sympathy for a character. While you might not need to have sympathy for a character in surrealist film, the entire purpose of a thriller - which "In Dreams" is, ostensibly - is to rivet an audience with genuine terror.

The relationship between Claire and husband Paul (Aidan Quinn) is never convincing. Claire accuses him of infidelity when she finds a letter in his captain's jacket - Paul is a pilot. But she hardly has time for marital strife with all her fruit acid hallucinations.

The Cooper's happily-ever-after New England estate is sabotaged by the loss of a child and Claire's increasing insanity. Writing on the walls with blood - Claire is occasionally possessed by Vivian, who as a child was locked in a house as the town around him was flooded - certainly will not enhance the resell value.

Claire moves in and out of hospitals after an attempted suicide and several fits of dementia. Dr. Silverman (Stephen Rea) tries to help her, but Rea's performance is so pallid that it offers no relief. He and Quinn act with such reserve that they seem to be trying to escape "In Dreams," which shifts between elegance and trashiness at five-minute intervals.

Likewise, Elliot Goldenthal's score reaches a certain synthesized baroque fervor that deepens the emotional content of the film, only to rely later on gothic bombast that accents the movie's ridiculousness.

He sets a shimmering electric guitar atop a simple canon during the hypnotic opening, as scuba divers search the sunken remnants of Vivian's childhood town. The quiet sadness that pervades this sequence is overwhelmed by the hectoring hysteria that characterizes the general tone of the movie.

"In Dreams" is a schlocky diversion with moments of grace and a mirthful Robert Downey Jr. enjoying his trashy role as an effeminate marauder and murderer. It punished me with no nightmares, and I doubt it will the resumes of cast and crew. It is a case of temporary insanity.

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