Margot Robbie Shows Her Rebellious Side in Dust Bowl Crime Drama ‘Dreamland’
Before she went on to receive two Academy Award nominations, including one for her portrayal of unruly figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” Australian actress Margot Robbie let her rebellious side shine through in the 1930s crime drama “Dreamland.” Filmed three years ago in New Mexico, “Dreamland” is the latest feature to offer viewers a bit of escapism during the pandemic. Robbie plays Allison Wells, a bank robber who goes on the run in Great Depression era-Texas and finds herself the dream girl of a bored farm boy, Eugene Evans (Finn Cole).
The story of Allison and Eugene is told to us by Eugene’s younger half-sister, Phoebe (Darby Camp, voiced by Lola Kirke as an adult), twenty years after the events of the film. When we first meet Eugene in 1935, his rural community has been devastated by numerous Dust Bowl storms and drought. Not unlike today, there is much civil unrest, and a string of bloody shootouts between cops and gangsters have kept citizens on their toes. 17-year-old Eugene, meanwhile, mostly keeps a low profile, living on a farm with Phoebe, his mom, Olivia (Kerry Condon), and his stepfather, George (Travis Fimmel), the local deputy. Like many young people, he yearns for a more exciting, meaningful existence, and finds an escape in reading. Eugene’s real father, John Baker, who abandoned him and Olivia when he was only five, has become a sort of mythical figure to him. Because John once sent him a postcard from the Gulf of Mexico, the only communication he received from his dad since he left, Eugene has built up in his head a fantasy of his father living a dream life on the beach. As it’s a far cry from the humdrum life he’s living under the same roof of his controlling stepfather, Eugene yearns to one day escape and join John.
Meanwhile, Allison Wells is on the run after committing a bank robbery that turned into a shootout with the police and ended with multiple people, including a little girl, losing their lives. When Eugene hears about the ten thousand dollar reward on her head, he is determined to find her, ostensibly because he could use the money to save his family’s farm, but what he really needs is an adventure. However, his plan changes after he discovers Allison late one night hiding in a barn on his family’s property. Despite his earlier determination to capture her dead or alive, he doesn’t immediately perform a citizen’s arrest. Perhaps this is because she promises to deliver to him twenty grand, twice the bounty he would receive otherwise, if he can give her a ride to Mexico. But the more likely explanation is that he cannot help but be attracted to the beautiful and witty outlaw. In his mind, she is not the dangerous, bloodthirsty criminal he had imagined, but a damsel in distress who has been pushed into a life of crime by tragic circumstances not unlike his own.
Phoebe, who we come to learn isn’t the most reliable narrator herself, makes it clear that a lot of what Allison says should be taken with a grain of salt, although it is rather obvious that she is not being one-hundred percent truthful with lovestruck Eugene. With a lesser actor in the role, Allison could easily be unsympathetic, but Robbie manages to bring out her humanity. But the major issue with “Dreamland” is that it takes far too long for Eugene and Allison to hit the road, and when they finally do, it’s a big mess. After so much buildup, the story wraps up in a haste while the viewer is left in the dust with a few questions. One thing that is certain is that the Bonnie and Clyde life is better off left in a dream.
“Dreamland” releases Nov. 13 in select cities and Nov. 17 on VOD.