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by Jim Wunderle

"In Dreams"

Directed by: Neil Jordan

Starring: Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., Stephen Rea

Rated: R

Director Neil Jordan is no stranger to enigmatic film. He's probably best known for 1992's "The Crying Game," but before that he directed the vastly overlooked "Mona Lisa," as well as a quirky revamping of "Little Red Riding Hood" titled "The Company of Wolves."

Those films, as well as his take on the Anne Rice mega-novel "Interview With The Vampire," are set in worlds that are slightly askew from the one we consider normal. He took this perspective to a near extreme in 1998 with "The Butcher Boy," a movie that never made it to screens in our neighborhood but is now available at your local video outlet.

Jordan's latest film, "In Dreams," is possibly his most complex and disturbing yet. With the aid of cinematographer Darius Khondji, Jordan is able to bring his quirky vision to life with quite stunning visual results.

Khondji has worked with the French directorial team of Jeunet and Caro ("Delicatessen," "The City of Lost Children") as well as David Fincher on the eerie psycho-drama "Seven." His keen sense of shadow and light, and the juxtaposition of the real and surreal play a big part in all of the films he's shot, and he's in top form with "In Dreams."

Also in fine form is Annette Bening. Bening has proven she can play romantic comedies just fine ("The American President"). But I remember the first time I saw her, in Stephen Frear's "The Grifters."

Along with John Cusack and Anjelica Huston, Bening was nothing less than stunning as a young con woman, wise beyond her years.

After playing the love interest opposite Warren Beatty in "Bugsy," Bening in "real" life tamed the actor legendary for his noncommittal love life. The pair have been happily married since 1992 and starred together in the somewhat lackluster remake of "An Affair to Remember," 1994's "Love Affair."

Bening returns to form in "In Dreams," playing a complex character walking the line between reality and madness. The basic plot will remind one of "The Eyes of Laura Mars" and "Fallen:" A psychotic killer, here played by Robert Downey Jr., is somehow able to invade the thoughts of another person.

That person in "In Dreams" is Claire Cooper (Bening), an artist, wife and devoted mother. Claire and her family live in New England, close to a dam that, when built and put into use, wiped out an entire town. This town, now under hundreds of feet of water, plays a big role in the film, as well in the killer's personality.

Jordan's imaginative direction and Khondji's supple cinematography give this underwater ghost town an eerie presence in the film.

Claire's daughter disappears, and Claire begins to experience strange, tormenting visions. A killer has invaded her thoughts, and she's sure she knows who his next victim will be. A slight problem arises when everyone from her husband to the local authorities thinks Claire has merely cracked under the pressure of losing her child.

Late in the film we meet Claire's tormentor, a psychotic serial killer played quite convincingly by Downey Jr., and we finally realize that Claire's visions, while born of madness, are nonetheless quite real.

The killer, Vivian Thompson, has been a full-fledged psycho since childhood. It was a childhood that saw abuse from his mother, time in a mental institution and his entire town shut down and flooded by the new dam.

Much like Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs," Vivian is a repulsive but compelling character, one that we are afraid of but intrigued by.

"In Dreams" is beautiful to look at while at the same time rather hard to watch. Jordan and screenwriter Bruce Robinson have concocted a complex, sometimes confusing tale that will befuddle a lot of filmgoers.

I suspect that it won't do a whole lot of business at the box office but when released on video making repeated viewings easier it will gain critical and "cult" acclaim. See it now, though, because if nothing else, Khondji's stunning cinematography looks incredible on the big screen.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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