Written by: Matt Patti | June 4th, 2020
Dreamland (Bruce McDonald, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
A gang boss, a hitman, a vampire, and a trumpet player walk into a bar … or should I say all walk into Dreamland, director Bruce McDonald’s strange crime thriller that mixes many genre elements into a singular plot. This is one of those films that seems so random that it makes me sit back and think: “How did someone come up with this idea?” It’s a unique endeavor, for sure. Unfortunately for Dreamland, while the concept is an interesting one, and most of its characters are intriguing, some of these elements don’t mesh together quite that well.
Dreamland’s plot is one that is quite convoluted and goes off into many different directions, so it’s a bit difficult to give a summary here. The film follows a hitman named Johnny (Stephen McHattie, The Dark Stranger), who works for a gang boss that goes by the name Hercules. Hercules tasks Johnny with bringing him the finger of a jazz player who disrespected him. The jazz player is playing at a wedding, hosted by a countess, in which her brother, a vampire, is getting married to a 13-year-old girl. That 13-year-old girl also happens to be one of many kidnapped girls trapped in a child-sex ring run by Hercules, a ring that Johnny detests. Johnny meets a child whose sister is the soon-to-be vampire bride. This inspires Johnny to try to rescue the girl, even at the expense of defying his boss and facing certain danger.
If it seems in that previous paragraph that my plot summary is a bit hard to follow and all over the place, then you’re feeling what I felt when viewing the first act of this film. The plot is unfocused and the driving force of our main character, Johnny, remains a mystery. The story moves in circles until about midway through the second act, when we are introduced to the main plotline. It’s a different thing, for sure, to leave viewers guessing where the film is going, but I don’t think it works very well here and instead makes the plot a bit too messy.
Once the main goal of Johnny is clear, the film does pick up a bit. Stephen McHattie’s performance as the hitman is impressive, but equally commendable is his performance as the trumpet player. Yes, he plays both distinct characters. It’s a bit confusing at first, but later in the film they’re easy to distinguish. The characters are all decently colorful and have their own unique ways of dealing with situations, making most of them interesting. However, many of the characters are underused, including the trumpet player. The vampire is severely underused, as well. In fact, if he were just a regular man marrying a 13-year-old girl, much of the film would stay exactly the same and he would be equally as disgusting. The fact that he is a vampire has no real effect on the story. It’s also difficult to focus on any one character because the film moves around from place to place so often, not allowing the audience to follow any character that closely except for Johnny the hitman.
The film has great production values and a dreamlike feel and look to it, but unfortunately, just like in a real dream, many details and events are glossed over rapidly. There is an overabundance of flashbacks and visions and some important scenes are over too quickly. The main intrigue of the film revolves around Johnny and the fact that, while he’s a cold-blooded killer, as established by the film’s opening scene, he really cares about the children and is doing the right thing. However, while that character development is engrossing, it also presents the question of why he cares for the children that much. He doesn’t seem to have his own kids, or at least they aren’t shown, and he shoots strangers in the head without batting an eye. Yet he seems to have a strong will to do the right thing when it comes to protecting children. Commendable as it is, it just doesn’t quite make sense to me.
The conclusion of this film involves a series of unnecessary and poor decisions by Johnny and a very random and violent scene that seems to come out of nowhere. In the end, Dreamland plays out like a dream with an unfocused plot, random events, and questionable decisions made by many. McHattie’s performance as the hitman Johnny is a bright spot, as is his character as a whole, even if his intentions are confusing. Even with the wacky characters and dream-like feel, the film is actually more of a rescue thriller along the lines of Taken, but never quite as suspenseful or intense. Overall, Dreamland is only an average crime thriller, even when it has the potential to be so much more. It’s not an awful film and could be enjoyed as an obscure throwaway crime flick, but much like many dreams it is easily forgotten.