Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) could be suggested to be the quintessential Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan) film. It features Woody Allen as Cliff Stern, a married and unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who becomes infatuated with another woman played by Mia Farrow. Additionally Alan Alda plays Lester, Cliff’s brother-in-law who is a successful television producer. A man who Cliff despises and is forced into making a documentary about. From this description you could assume that this is a fairly safe Woody Allen flick featuring Allen’s signature wit and dysfunctional look at relationships however the film has another half to it.
The other half of the film focuses on Judah Rosenthal played by Martin Landau. Judah is a married and successful ophthalmologist who is having an affair with a flight attendant played by Anjelica Huston. However his mistress is planning to reveal the whole affair to Judah’s wife forcing Judah to take drastic and deadly action to stop her. From here on, Judah is plagued by a Crime and Punishment-esque moral dilemma about whether a man can carry on living after being responsible for a murder. Through this he reminisces about his religious upbringing as he tries to resolve his guilt.
Allen manages to juggle these two storys incredibly well often going from serious and dark territory to light and comedic scenes. This is helped largely by Martin Landau’s brilliant performance and Woody Allen’s charm as an actor. Through Landau, we can truly see the complex emotions and moral dilemmas that his character is facing and through Allen we manage to receive a welcoming and humorous sense of relief that contrasts and yet also matches Landau at points.
Furthermore the cinematography helps to show this contrast which can be seen particularly in the shot above. The lighting is quite striking and character’s faces are filled with shadows suggesting the darkness that surrounds Judah’s life. Meanwhile, Cliff is often shot outside on the brightly lit streets of Manhattan. The only time these two appear together on screen is in the end where they both become equal, wearing matching outfits and in similar positions.
Sadly this shot is ruined by the poster.
Casual viewers may be let down however fans of Woody Allen will understand what makes this film so brilliant.