It’s been a while since my last Woody Allen film, which for me might be a little too long. I absolutely loved Annie Hall, to the point that I made it my second ever review on this site, and my other forays into his work have been similarly enjoyable. In hindsight, however, his filmography does seem to be rather one-note: amazing script, and the rest will just follow during shooting (which it usually does). I’ve looked over the Allen films I have yet to get to in the Book, and of them, Crimes and Misdemeanors seemed to be the most typical Allen film of them, which might be why there was a slight hesitation on my part of actually watching the film; I didn’t want my hindsight perception of Allen as one-note to transfer over into the present tense while watching one of his films. While my experience was largely very much like that, it still didn’t stop me from enjoying the film a great deal; Allen seems to be one of the best present-moment filmmakers around.
The story, like most of Allen’s films, is inconsequential; you’re not watching his films for the story, you’re probably watching it for the script. Nevertheless, each of his films is unique in the subject that they explore, and Crimes and Misdemeanors is no different. We actually follow two different people, who are completely unconnected throughout the film until they happen to meet each other at a wedding reception at the end. One is Judah, played excellently by Martin Landau (though why he was nominated in the supporting actor category and not lead actor is a little baffling); an eye doctor who is having an affair with a flight attendant, and to which he is attempting to break off the tryst at the beginning of the film. The woman, to put it lightly, isn’t willing to back down without a fight, and moral quandaries are raised when Judah accepts his brother’s offer to hire a hitman to have the woman killed. The other protagonist, unsurprisingly played by Allen, is Cliff, a documentary filmmaker who is hired to direct a feature based on his brother-in-law Lester’s life and career. Cliff despises Lester, and this only increases when he finds himself falling for Lester’s producer Halley, despite the fact that he is also in a loveless marriage. Really, the whole film is a lead-up to the end sequence where the two main characters meet and discuss their mutual problems, but Allen is smart enough to not literally make the film nothing but a lead-up to the ending (I’m looking at you, Carrie). How he does so, though, is pretty typically Allen, but this film isn’t so much a straight comedy as his other films largely are, especially when dealing with Judah’s story and the dark places it goes to. The script is excellent, not that anyone was expecting any different, and so is the acting, though again, that’s to be expected with Allen’s pictures.
This is probably the most optimistic I’ve seen Allen in his films. Now, given that the plot of the film deals with two married men in different stages of committing affairs, one of which actually has his lover killed, that’s a surprising sentiment to make. But it’s how Allen wraps the stories up that makes this optimistic. It essentially boils down to a personal life lesson: everybody does bad things in their life, but it is how they let it affect them that will determine if they are truly punished for these transgressions. That such conclusions are able to be drawn from a film like this, rather than just the straight comedy and enjoyment of Allen’s typical pictures, is a testament to Allen and how skilled he is as a writer, and as a director. I know how weird it is to be saying that this is both a typical and atypical Woody Allen film, but that, I think, is what makes Allen so special; he’s consistent, but not so much so that his films become redundant. Each has their own stuff to bring to the table, and with Crimes and Misdemeanors, I think you’ll end up chewing on it for quite a while after seeing this one, and that, in this case, is indeed a good thing.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10