Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) (PG-13)
"Crimes and Misdemeanors" is one of Woody Allen's most highly celebrated films. It deals with all his favorite subjects: love, marriage, other women, mortality, morality, the meaning of life, God, and the struggle of living. Yet with all these things included, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" manages to be darker and less influential than most other Allen movies.
Surrounding two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) and Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is a spectacle with its timeline. It never ceases to jump back and forth in time, sometimes conjuring entire scenes in fictional hallucinations that also serve as flashbacks.
Dr. Judah Rosenthal, an opthamologist, is receiving an award for his philanthropic work. He attends the dinner with his family; but something seems to be weighing on his mind. The answer, which is quickly made clear to us, is that he has a mistress. Dolores Paley (Anjelica Houston) is tired of being the other woman and wants Judah to leave his wife of twenty years, Miriam (Claire Bloom). Becoming more and more hostile, Dolores sends letters to Miriam which Judah is certain to intercept. She tries to make phone calls—in essence, she's just a few drinks away from going all Alex Forrest on everybody.
Then there's Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), who is a documentary film maker whose fame is as elusive as money is in the industry. He is trying to make important films that will change civilization; but he is met with no market and the public opinion that his subjects don't matter. Yet his is mulish about his work and continues to plow into making the films he wants to make.
Enter Cliff's brother-in-law, Lester (Alan Alda). Lester is a successful producer and schmoozer who lives vivaciously by spending tons of money and helping himself to the cream of every crop. It's quite safe to say that Cliff doesn't like Lester—the feeling is probably mutual.
Yet Cliff's wife, Wendy (Joanna Gleason) is determined to get her husband work and she finds the perfect job—a director for a documentary. The only problem is the person they will be filming: Lester himself. As pompous of an ass as Lester is, Cliff's opinion towards him only convinces the viewer that the man is worse than we originally thought. He goes off on tangents about humor and how it is bent and not broke...or something like that.
We find it very easy to roll out eyes along with Cliff at Lester's antics.
So here's the connection: Lester's brother, Ben (Sam Waterston) who is a rabbi, is also a patient of Dr. Rosenthal. We have here a perfect lineup for some odd run-ins; but that never happens. In fact, the two story lines rarely ever cross in terms of Cliff meeting Judah, except for the very end of the movie.
Allen's familiar dialogue is in place and music to the ears; but my problem is how tried and true it all feels. It's not an Allen movie like "Annie Hall" which was wacky enough to make us forget how depressing it was or a film like "Match Point" which firmly supported that the director could pull off a suspenseful movie. Instead, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" playfully tries to have it all—the humor and the agony. For most of it, the movie works; but I can't help feeling a little cold by the end of it all.
What good did it do? Certainly Landau's performance is stunning; but was it really enough to make me enjoy the film? No, I don't think so.
While fun and deep in its own ways, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" never really accomplishes anything besides a very odd self-referential comment on movies having happy endings. It would seem that this is Allen's attempt to rationalize nihilism, so...he succeeds by making everything seems pointless.
Posted by Micah Jones