Bruce McDonald isn’t a director that a lot of people are going to be familiar with. Sure, he has credits to his name, but nothing that the average filmgoer will be able to recognize. However, the most famous movie in his career, PontyPool, which was a 2008 horror movie that starred Stephen McHattie was written by Tony Burgess, is more than likely his most famous movie to date. He now teams up, once again, with actor Stephen McHattie and writer Tony Burgess with Dreamland, a movie about an old and rusty hitman who gets assigned a risky assignment, one that is odd and perplexing. While being richly orchestrated and shot with gleaming conviction, Dreamland is a slick, stylish, and contemporary noir flick that shows a neat and inventive way of capturing one’s own imagination and bringing something new to a movie about a hitman.
The premise is simple, yet so peculiar. Dreamland focuses on a hitman, named Johnny (Stephen McHattie), who is sent on task by his grotesque crime boss, Hercules (Henry Rollins) to bring him the finger of a fading, drug-addicted jazz legend (also played by Stephen McHattie). While Johnny gets this assignment, he discovers that his own boss has also gotten himself involved with child trafficking, which is something that Johnny starts to get severely uncomfortable with. His motives start to change and we then see a very interesting arc for him as the movie follows through.
Stephen McHattie is an actor that you might recognize in the small roles that he’s served in. He’s had a couple of very small roles in a few Darren Aronofsky flicks (mother!/The Fountain) and he even had a role in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and 300. Take all this lightly because these aren’t huge roles, but he’s got a somewhat familiar face and he’s the type of actor that makes you go “Hey, I’ve seen that guy before.” Now, the interesting thing with Stephen McHattie in Dreamland is that he’s playing two different roles and, for someone of his age, he plays both roles convincingly. Aside from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s hard to think of another actor in their 70s who can pull off a role that requires any form of physicality because they’ve either never donned a role like that or that there’s too much risk involved.
It’s addressed that Stephen McHattie’s hitman is rusty and old, yet there’s still this ruthless and brutal force that moves with him. He doesn’t do much physically in Dreamland, however he does gun down foes in the process and pulls it off with style and believability. This aspect is normally done differently in a lot of other hitman movies. Take John Wick for example. Keanu Reeves is 55 years old, and then he decides to retire but still gets called back into action. In the case Stephen McHattie as Johnny, he’s still going through, despite him getting longer in the tooth, but McHattie finds a way to make his actions plausible and rational. We spend a lot more time with Stephen McHattie as Johnny than we do as him as the jazz artist, and while he plays roles well, he shines the most as Johnny. He brings so much life and nuance to Johnny, regardless of how old of an assassin he might actually be.
One aspect of Dreamland that’s inventive for a hitman movie is how it captures a hitman’s own inner imagination. We constantly see Johnny having these strange and peculiar visions throughout the movie, and without getting into too much spoiler territory, it was such a refreshing way to capture a hitman’s own dilemmas and mental turmoil because it’s an angle that we don’t see applied to the average hitman movie. Imagine if this was applied to the John Wick movies or how about Collateral. Granted, those movies are great in their own right, but Dreamland almost had a more mystical approach with the character of Johnny, and that was definitely an interesting layer of the movie.
Dreamland is also a gorgeous piece, just visually speaking. Dreamland presents itself with alluring shots of the dirty streets, the rotting bars/hotels, and even the glamourous places that are across the cities of Europe. Director Bruce McDonald really finds a way to balance out both the classy nature and the rough and violent aspects that make for a noir movie, thereby giving so much fluidity and refinement to the environment. Judging Dreamland on its visual scope and its luxurious cinematography, it’s a legit piece of art.
As far as nitpicks or any weaknesses go, Dreamland could have benefited more by adding an additional 20-30 minutes to really help expand on some backstory on Johnny’s history. It’s sometimes a neat little trick to add some mystery to certain characters by showing less. While Johnny proved to a very interesting character, there could have been a stronger sense of what his past was like and what kind of struggles and tribulations he had encountered. That aspect of the movie certainly didn’t taint the experience, but there could have been a little bit more time spent on the history of Johnny’s character.
Dreamland proved to be a slick and very stylized noir experience, in a unique type of way. Stephen McHattie gives a terrific performance as both a hitman and as a musician. It’s a good-looking movie to gaze at and it tells the story of a hitman, but in an unconventional type of direction. Besides some minutes that could have been supplemented in the movie, Dreamland is an enjoyable little experience.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital June 5th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out 5.