Today I watched Crimes and Misdemeanors, which he directed in 1989. The plot seems much darker than his other films, but it's great. I love really dark comedy, and this one was fantastic. I was worried when the plot started to turn that it would get awkward or unfunny, but it really never did. It was so well-written and was a great blend of drama, dark comedy, and the normal Woody Allen comedy style that I love so much. The acting was great, too, and the whole movie was just really neat to watch.
Quick and dirty IMDB summary - "Opthalmologist Judah Rosenthal has had an affair with Dolores for several years, and now she threatens to ruin his life if he doesn't marry her. When his brother Jack suggests to have Dolores murdered, Judah is faced with a big moral dilemma: destruction of his life or murder. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker Clifford Stern is trying to make a film of a philosophy professor, but instead he's commissioned to make a portrait of succesful TV producer and brother-in-law Lester, who to Clifford represents everything that he despises." I wasn't too sure that the murder plot would actually be anything other than strange, but it worked really well. I think I was worried it might be too dark, and maybe too....literary?
I immediately noticed and liked that it reminded me of Crime and Punishment. I think I so hated struggling through that book in high school for what seemed like an entire year that I'm just happy when I can apply some knowledge of it to my life. Do I like the book, or do I just like pointing out references to the book so I can feel like I learned something? I may never know. Regardless, for some reason or another I enjoyed the references. Judah is like Raskolnikov - he has a desire to find out if he can actually live with having committed a crime. Unlike the novel, Judah actually doesn't lose his mind and seems to be able to live with the guilt, even making it into a positive thing. I think that's awesome, it would have been quite dull if it was too similar.
As far as the movie itself is concerned, I was a little worried about the two plot lines in the film. Would it be too annoying to have to pull away from the more exciting sounding murder plot to focus on Clifford? Nah. It worked perfectly. The scenes with Clifford are great at keeping the movie from feeling too dark, or having it's real message hit too hard. The idea that Judah eventually justifies and copes very well with his crime is disturbing, I think. I want to believe that people have trouble with evil deeds, and that evil does not go unpunished. Here, Allen complains that God turns a blind eye and lets evil continue on. That's sort of heavy, but the scenes with Clifford are standard Woody Allen fare, and they keep the tone lighter and less dramatic. It's a really great blend, I enjoyed it.
I just love Woody Allen's writing. I love that he isn't afraid to use a wide variety of references. He works in everything from Hitler to James Joyce, and it's great. It's not over done, either. A whole movie of James Joyce references, or a movie where you needed to understand them to get the plot, would be really frustrating. But I love his joke about copying the letter from Joyce. "You probably wondered why all the references to Dublin." I thought that was so amazing. You could have no idea who that author is and still laugh, I think. But it makes you feel and special and smug and stupid when you do get it, since...well, I don't often get to laugh or joke about Joyce in my normal life, so it's fun to do it now. I just love that he trusts his audiences, and doesn't play down to them.
I'm so happy I've been able to see so many Woody Allen movies. I actually never saw one until starting this project, believe it or not. There are a lot of things that I've come to appreciate from this project, like anime films, and even westerns (which I have finally admitted that I like, my god). But for some reason Woody Allen always seems like the biggest discovery to me. With anime and westerns, I feel like "Hey, my mind is open to this genre, I'll check out films from it and stuff," where with Allen, it's like, "This director is awesome and I want to study the films that he made and learn a lot about him." I think it's really special and excellent when you can find a new director to be really enthusiastic about. I know that when this project is over, I want to watch more Woody Allen films! The movie is streaming on Netflix, it's worth checking out, especially if you like dark comedy.
Have any thoughts on Crimes and Misdemeanors? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Crimes and Misdemeanors
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