Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989): Movie Review

Crimes and Misdemeanors starring Martin LandauGuest blogger Alex Kittle writes:

Since enjoying Midnight in Paris so much, I’ve been dipping more intoWoody Allen‘s filmography. First up was Crimes and Misdemeanors, which interested me since it’s more of a drama than a romantic comedy (which is primarily what I’ve seen from him, it feels). The sizable cast features a number of loosely interconnected figures, all somehow dealing with love and disappointment. Judah (Martin Landau), a prominent ophthalmologist, is facing threats from his slightly unhinged mistress (Anjelica Huston) and is given a difficult choice to protect his marriage. Meanwhile, struggling documentary filmmaker Cliff (Woody Allen) is filming a special on his asshole brother-in-law¬†(Alan Alda), a successful and lecherous comedy producer. He finds himself falling for the documentary’s producer Halley (Mia Farrow), as his own marriage has been failing. The two men’s lives seem unrelated, but come together through mutual acquaintances at a dinner party.

Crimes and Misdemeanors has a lot going on, balancing traumatic ruminations on death and faith with light-hearted romance and comedic dialogue. It’s a bit off-putting at times, but eventually the very different experiences of the two main characters begin to betray the darkness that can pervade any lifestyle or worldview. Cliff comes off as a slightly silly, intelligent film buff, but it’s clear he uses humor to overcome his own insecurities and cannot responsibly deal with his crumbling marriage. Judah seems so put-together, a wealthy doctor, husband, and father, but his own misgivings about his Jewish background and atheist present lead to a complete shift in ideology after he makes a life-changing decision. Their final meeting at the end is a pivotal scene.

The dialogue and characters are the standout of the film, with the story and tone a little too uneven for me. It’s a decent mix of comedy and drama, but doesn’t quite nail it, plus the ending felt abrupt despite the voiceover montage, somehow. But I loved the interactions between Allen and Farrow (they hang out and watch Singin’ in the Rain!) and his adorable niece. Alan Alda is hilarious and douchebaggy; Martin Landau brings the gravitas. It’s an interesting and entertaining film overall, but I didn’t all-out love it. For one thing, the way it ends with Farrow and Allen’s characters is frustratingly written, and I can’t help but think that this is the sort of thing that influences the one-sided sexism of movies like (500) Days of Summer, wherein women are untrustworthy and fickle just because they don’t fall for the protagonist. That’s a bit extreme, I guess, but I couldn’t help but have that line of thinking.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez. Um. Maybe something kind of noir-y, like The Square.

Alex Kittle is an art, movie, and comic geek with a penchant for nonsensical jokes and exaggerated claims. Her blog Film Forager explores movies of every genre, from weird high-concept sci-fi to classic brooding romance.