Dreamland is the type of film that audiences don’t get to see all that often. The reason being is neo-Western is a genre that can feel very sloppy in the hands of an inexperienced filmmaker. But for Miles Joris-Peyrafitte with only his second feature, he proved himself more than capable of handling the genre. Through barren landscapes and dust-covered houses, Dreamland is a story all can relate to, although it’s told through the wildly entertaining lens of criminals on the run.
From the narration to the subject matter itself, Dreamland is very much a story that feels pulled straight from the pages of a storybook. Paired with the constantly beautiful framing and blocking, the film feels like a comic that young Eugene steals with his friend that has come to life. Eugene is a kid, but it’s very easy to forget as he adamantly claims he’s 25 and becomes more daring the more time he spends around outlaw Allison Wells. As she is hiding in his barn, a perfectly cast Margot Robbie convinces Eugene to help her escape to Mexico. Yes, she entices him with a reward that doubles her bounty, but it’s clear Eugene is more interested in the life he has conjured up by her side. For Robbie has a way of highlighting all the alluring elements of a life of crime, yet much more is in store.
It’s easy at times to forget Robbie is also portraying a criminal, due to how manipulative she can be. It’s not out of maliciousness, but rather a survival instinct. Overall, its lies she spins that make for a more compelling film, simply because audiences love an antagonist that’s entertaining. Villains are much more interesting due to the escape and life they provide away from the mundane. So as an audience member, Eugene who reads of outlaws on the run all day is extremely relatable. If given the chance, would someone go on the lam with a partner if it meant feeling more free than ever? The arc of Eugene shows the decisions that need to be made, and the repercussions for each choice are laid clear, leaving the audience fully aware. Everyone looks for something in life, and sometimes, it’s not easily attainable naturally.
And especially in 1930’s Texas where the storms would destroy entire incomes of farmers? Eugene yearning to escape his policeman stepfather and the open nothingness is understandable. Wells tells Eugene that they live in a land of burdens, and Eugene luckily gets to pick his. And the allure of outlaw life is far too great, but that doesn’t make him a bad person. It simply reminds the viewer that he’s young, naïve, and smitten with a life that will swallow him whole if he isn’t careful. And the life isn’t just described as enticing, but it’s shown to be thanks to Joris-Peyrafitte. Dreamland is extremely stylized, from many one-takes to thrilling sequences through editing, this film attempts a lot. In a way, it could be taken as attempting everything to see what works best, which is definitely felt a bit. Still, its peaks are definitely worth the experimentation.
For example, there are two standout scenes that are polar opposites of one another. In a heist scene, comprised entirely of a one-take, the aftermath is comprised of frantic intercutting, a pounding score, and a plethora of different types of camerawork; to call it frantic is putting it lightly. However, a scene prior provides a minimalist approach in every aspect. It’s a simple discussion between Robbie and actor Finn Cole where he fully comes into his own as Eugene contemplates his next steps in life. The camera remains still for a few minutes, and very slowly, but surely, zooms into his face. It’s a pivotal moment in the film that Joris-Peyrafitte commands full attention towards by removing any and all distraction. The score is removed, and even Robbie is out of frame, leaving Cole to take command of the viewer and dictates how the rest of the film will advance.
It’s a technique that seems to be coming out of a seasoned director, and Joris-Peyrafitte pulls it off with ease. Dreamland will surely be a fan favorite of the festival, as it has something for all viewers. Beautiful wide shots of the desert could double as screensavers, and all around great performances from the leads and supporting characters make for a massively entertaining and thrilling film. There could be some more depth in terms of the screenplay, and some elements of the plot are left to imagination or left to be confusing, but the core themes are prevalent enough. Everyone is looking for something, and in the case of Eugene and Wells, what they were looking for took them on quite the journey. And whether the finale deems itself worthy of the trip is up to the viewer, although it seems like there’s no regrets for the outlaws.
Dreamland celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is part of the Narrative Spotlight section.