Woody Allen’s peculiar London jaunt continues with this odd melodrama – it’s littered with references to classical tragedy, but feels more like a peculiarly stilted film noir. Though not quite as thumpingly poor as Match Point, it dips again into An American Tragedy/A Place in the Sun in the character of a young man who commits murder to get ahead in society and keep hold of a glamorous girlfriend and trots out an odd, awkward vision of contemporary London that finds the formerly-sharp wit turning out (deliberately?) arch, unimaginable dialogue.
Brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) buy the eponymous boat (supposedly named after a greyhound) and tootle around in it – Ian is working in a restaurant owned by his sad sack father (John Benfield) but dreams of investing in Californian hotels and becoming a big shot like his plastic surgeon uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), and is smitten with a shallow actress (Hayley Atwell) who thinks he’s rich because he was driving a borrowed Jaguar when they met cute (he stopped to help her fix her broken-down car), while Terry is a hard-drinking gambling addict with a nice-but-not-overly-bright girlfriend (Sally Hawkins). Both brothers suddenly have a pressing need for a hundred grand apiece, and Howard – sheltering under a tree in a park during a shower – offers to cough up providing they do him one little favour, murdering a bloke (Phil Davis) who is about to testify against him for some unspecified unethical behaviour. Ian becomes more ruthless and driven as they work up to the killing, while Terry is stricken with conscience before and after the deed – with the big crunch coming out on the boat after Terry has decided to confess to the cops and Ian wonders if he can kill his own brother.
As usual with Allen, the cast is choice – McGregor and Farrell are even credibly London-accented, or at least come up with voices to match the oddly-cadenced dialogue, but the women are stick figures (compare Hawkins here with in Happy-Go-Lucky and you see an actress left at sea by the script, while Atwell gets stuck with the cold-hearted fantasy bitch role). Allen has always been drawn to tragedy or classical drama (cf: Mighty Aphrodite) along with European art cinema, but seems to have missed the fact that American film noir already invented a cinema language to express these impulses far more potently than this stagey, mannered, impossible-to-take-seriously, equally-hard-to-laugh-with effort. Clare (Hellraiser) Higgins’s sit-com Mum might have been passable on Mrs Dale’s Diary in 1956 but seems like an alien being in this context. Allen can still sign top-rate collaborators (here, including cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and composer Philip Glass), but really needs to up his game.