Saturday, September 09, 2006

Crimes and Misdemeanors


Dir: Woddy Allen (Manhattan; Deconstructing Harry; Hannah and Her Sisters)

Allen interprets Crime and Punishment in this dark, funny, and brilliant film. Martin Landau has a dilemma when his mistress (Angelica Huston) becomes increasingly unstable. Meanwhile, Allen plays a jealous documentary maker who resents his brother-in-law's success as a producer of television drivel. Both story lines explore the underbelly of human behavior more directly that Allen had in the past, and the result is in many ways his most mature and profound work.

While Landau underwhelms in his performance, Huston more than makes up for it as the jilted and honest Dolores. We cannot help but simultaneously sympathize with and fear her, just as Landau's character feels guilt and yet yearns for her to just go away. His solution is obvious for those who know their literature. But it is Allen's attitude toward Landau's actions in the last third of the movie that makes Crimes and Misdemeanors so profound. At the end of the film, we are not sure whether Landau has committed the former or the latter.

That story line is contrasted with a heartbreaking little love story between Allen and Mia Farrow, with Alan Alda as the pompous nemesis to our awkward hero. Allen's Cliff Stern is shy and boyish in a way that many of his other characters were not, a quality that allows us to care about him more than the more cynical people he has played in the past. This plot takes its own, more ordinary dark turn. When Allen and Landau finally come together at the end of the film, the spectrum of bad deeds, and the connections between them, is brought to our attention in a very insightful way. It is an exhilirating moment.

This is clearly one of Allen's most learned scripts, with religious, philosophical and literary allusions and themes permeating the dialogue. While also very entertaining, Allen has several deep points to make here. The film is an important document, near the top of the man's catalogue. My highest recommendation.