Dreamland (2019)

Dreamland first published by EyeforFilm

Though its events extend further backwards and forwards in time, Dreamland is set primarily in 1935, while the Great Depression is in full swing and rural Bismark in Texas is beset with dust bowl conditions destructive of all farming efforts. In other words, this is a small-town community where dreams have long since dried up. When wanted bank robber and killer Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) limps into town, most merely see the reward on her head,  but young Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) is seduced by the stories she tells of romance, fame, freedom and self-made fortune – sexy stories of the American Dream.

Dreamland is a film of stories: not just the “Detective Stories” which Eugene avidly reads to fuel his fantasies, or the multiple, contradictory accounts of what happened during Allison’s last heist, or the framing story about Eugene, his family history and his collision with Allison which is narrated decades later by Eugene’s loving younger half sister Phoebe (Darby Camp, with voiceover by Lola Kirke); but also the cinematic tradition of Great American outlaw stories (Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Gun Crazy, Badlands) which informs the textures of this particular tale. 

In pursuit of the father who abandoned him aged five for a supposedly better life on the Mexican coast, and in flight from the oppressive thumb of stepfather (and local police deputy) George (Travis Fimmel), Eugene finds his growing disappointment and disillusion momentarily intersecting with Allison’s on a road where choices, if you are lucky enough to have them in the first place, are always a burden. As such the film itself, directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, (As You Are, 2016) and written by Nicolaas Zwart, comes with a bittersweet vision of America barrelling down a two-lane road to nowhere, where dreams of sun and surf and sex are offset by the harsher realities of dust and mud and blood, and where, as the landscape is inscribed with corruption, ambiguity and guilt, the best kind of life for which one can hope is simply to be remembered, however sketchily, with affection. It’s an elegiac portrait (with Malickian colourings) as much of today’s America as yesteryear’s, in a land where every dream comes with a cost, and every story is built on tragedy. 

© Anton Bitel