American auteur Woody Allen explores themes of good and evil in this masterful modern-day morality play. When ophthamologist Judah Rosenthal (Oscar-nominated Martin Landau) is threatened with ruin by his mistress if he doe... more »sn't marry her, he considers the ultimate solution to his problem: murder. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker Clifford Stern is faced with an equally heinous moral dilemma: selling out. Allen compares the choices both men make, using a double storyline to brilliantly pair sharp comedy with harrowing drama.« less
A Woody Allen Masterpiece! Don't ignore this movie!
Jeffery K. Matheus | Indianapolis, IN United States | 11/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rate Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" as one of the 10...make that one of the 3 best movies ever made! It's a shame that this film did not stir up more of a buzz upon it's release in 1990, but thankfully it now has a second lease on life via DVD. "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is actually two movies rolled into one, as Allen masterfully intertwines two very different storylines, one a drama of tragic proportions, and the other, a lighter story with some classy comic moments. Thanks to Allen's keen sense of artistry, the two stories converge and successfully come together in the end as a unified whole. In just under 2 hours "Crimes and Misdemeanors" touches on some of the most perplexing questions of human nature, dealing sensitively with matters of ethics, guilt, fidelity, moral relitivism, conscience, and faith in God. The film does not attempt to spoon-feed answers to its audience, but rather raises some heady and important questions for the veiwer to consider,...even about themselves! Veteran actor Martin Landau is outstanding in the part of Judah, the main character of the more dramatic storyline. Landau pumps some real emotion into his character, so much so that you will truly feel his guilt and paranoia in the aftermath of the "crime" refered to in the title. Also very important to the "tragic" section on the film is Sam Waterston in the role of a Rabbi, in many ways this Rabbi is a pivotal chartcter in the story, as his belief in a morally-structered universe is contrasted with Judah's questionable thoughts and actions. Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and Alan Alda are the stars of the "alternate" storyline, and each is allowed to shine, thanks to Allen's gift for writing witty and fully-realised dialog. In fact the strained relationship between Allen (as an unsuccessful documentary filmmaker) and Alda (as an Aaron Spelling-esque, award winning TV producer) is one of the films many highlights, and Allen's barely-concealed comtempt for his artistic nemesis makes use of Woody's best comic talents. With all of its philosophical implications and brilliant uses of symbolism (something as simple as a car's headlights going out never resonated with so much meaning!) "Crimes and Misdemeanors" would make a great starting point for an ethical or theological bull session, and in fact many Christians and Orthodox Jews have used the film for just that purpose! As the voice-over narration tells us in the films closing moments, "we define ourselves by the choices we have made", and indeed these words come to life as we see the characters onscreen living with the choices that they have made, for better, or for worse. What else can I say, "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is a unique piece of cinema that will untimately challenge the mind, while at the same time keeping the heart deeply entertained! This is the type of cinema that you only get from a master filmmaker like Woody Allen."
Is Woody Religious?
Interplanetary Funksmanship | Vanilla Suburbs, USA | 04/07/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Woody Allen is the most deeply religious of movie directors; He just doesn't know it yet."Crimes and Misdemeanors" (an obvious nod to Fyodor Dostoyevsky) is Allen's most engrossing quest for moral order in the universe, which quest leaves him -- and the viewer -- utterly bereft. However, unlike the bleak "Interiors" or Allen's hilarious send-up on impending death being the impetus for finding God in "Hannah and Her Sisters," Allen's treatment of God, morality and free will is multi-faceted, and doesn't come to any pat answers.In fact, it is Allen's ambivalent contemplation of religion and ethics that conservative critics find lacking at best, or disingenuous at worst. I see it differently: Agree or disagree with him, Allen is an atheist who is nonetheless tormented by the conclusion he has reached that there is no God. His is no knee-jerk atheism, as he has clearly thought through the philosophical issues involved, wavering between Nietzschean will to power and outright denial, to existentialist reluctance in the face of the ultimate meaningless of life beyond the here-and-now. "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is peopled by a sterling cast, whose lives and choices are in direct conflict and contrast with one another; Yet, all speak with one voice, in Allen's exquisitely economical and pointed dialogue.Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau, in the role of a lifetime, so perfectly is the dialogue tailored to his cadence of voice and gestures), like Job, is a man who has everything he could ever want. Unlike Job, when he sees his wealth and seemingly ideal family life (with wife Claire Bloom) jeopardized, he turns his back on God.The catalyst for Judah's life crisis is Dolores (Angelica Huston), a lonely airline stewardress with whom he's having more than a fling. When Dolores realises that she means nothing more to Judah than a mistress, and that his marital overtures to her were hollow, she turns on him with neurotic vengeance, threatening to expose not only their affair, but Judah's shady financial dealings.Frozen by fear of exposure, Judah turns to his rabbi (played by Sam Waterston) for advice. As wise as the advice is, it leaves too much to chance, that Judah can still indeed face exposure, shame and ruin. So, then he calls on his hit-man brother (Jerry Orbach) to quietly make Dolores -- and all Judah's problems -- disappear.And they *do* disappear, but with one hitch: Judah is suddenly consumed with guilt, and the one distant God now appears to haunt him and watch his every move. It is interesting watching Judah as he tries to reconcile his amoral crime with his ambivalent beliefs towards the Almighty. The scene in which he visits his childhood home in New Jersey brings back ghosts from his past, and we see his relatives sitting around the Seder table, in heated debate over the existence of God and the search for a moral order in the universe. Being a Woody Allen movie, of course the nasal aunt who dismisses God as a childish fantasy -- given the evidence that He did nothing to stop the Holocaust -- wins the day, thus influencing the adolescent Judah, who is being watched by the older Judah, an invisible prescence within the dining room.Two other plot threads run alternately hilarious/serious: Allen co-stars as Clifford Stern, an independent filmmaker, who lives on the financial and emotional handouts from his sexually barren wife. When she arranges for him to film the life of her brother, Lester, a successful commercial TV producer played by Alan Alda (whose sleazy character is a cross between Norman Lear and Ted Turner), Clifford bristles at Lester's shallowness. Things get wilder as Cliff tries to woo Halley (played by Mia Farrow), a public TV producer. Meanwhile, Halley -- who at first brushes off Lester's slick advances -- starts being attracted to Lester. Meanwhile, Clifford is filming the life story of a philosopher of positive thinking, Holocaust survivor Dr. Levy. When the professor turns negative and commits suicide (and Halley simultaneously throws Cliff over for the boorish Lester), Clifford concludes that there is nothing but random moral choas, and that indeed -- echoing Nietzsche -- God is dead. The movie ends with Clifford and Judah meeting at the wedding of Rabbi Ben's daughter. The Rabbi has now gone fully blind, despite Judah's attempts to restore his eyesight. Yet, Judah observes, the guilt over Dolores' murder have dissipated, and confides hypothetically to Clifford that life can indeed be good for a murderer, provided he feel no moral guilt for his crimes, and that morality is but an impediment to fruitful living. After all, he notes, his family life and fortune have been restored to him, and that the idea of retributive justice being doled out by God is a fairy tale, a figment of imagination.The conclusion is that we are each responsible for our own actions and our own lives. Yet, Allen makes one huge error in logic: If there is no God, he seems to imply, and if there is no moral order to the universe, then there is no moral or ethical impediment to murdering one's fellows. Is this Allen's tacit acknowledgement of the supernatural, or is he backing up Nietzsche's notion that morality was only invented to keep lesser men from running amok, that the common mass needs laws because they are incapable of rational judgment? It seems here that Allen is making the case for utter nihilism. So, why is he a liberal on the political spectrum, liberalism being a philosophy that holds democratic action and altruism as its moral center? Is Allen making a sotto voce case for fascism?Truthfully, I don't think he's doing the latter. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see an atheist give so much thought and obvious private anguish to the question of God. If only the faithful did, there'd be less wanton violence commited in His name."
If it bends its funny, if it breaks it isn't. Allen's best!
B. Marold | Bethlehem, PA United States | 05/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"`Crimes and Misdemeanors' written and directed by Woody Allen may very well be Allen's best film to date. It is a straight drama with intermixed humor. It has no parody or self-reference like `Stardust Memories', it has no gimmicks like `Annie Hall', and it is not leadenly serious like `Interiors'. While this does not necessarily make it a better movie, it has what seems to be the largest `name' cast of all Allen's works, even though he is able to attract `name' actors like flies to honey. It even has a real plot where events early in the movie create situations to which you expect a resolution by the time the credits roll.
There is a very neat symmetry between two parallel series of events in the movie. The parallelism and it's nature are signaled by the title and the promise is realized far better than other works with similar titles. The liner notes compare the subject in this movie with `Love and Death', but I think the comparison is strained at best. The real issues in this movie are guilt and loss.
The Crime is the murder of Landau's mistress (Angelica Houston) arranged by Landau's brother (Jerry Orbach), a gangster with access to contract killers. The motive for the murder is fact that the mistress has become impatient in her expectation that Landau will leave his wife (Claire Bloom) and threatens to reveal the infidelity to Bloom and the world. What makes the risk to Landau even greater is that he is a very successful and wealthy doctor of ophthalmology who has contributed much to local hospitals and other charities.
The Misdemeanor is the dalliance of Allen's character with his assistant (Mia Farrow) while his marriage with wife Joanna Gleason is souring. The connection between Allen and Landau is based on the fact that one of Gleason's brothers is a rabbi (Sam Waterston) who is going blind and is being treated by Ophthalmologist Landau. The misdemeanor plot is enriched by Gleason's other brother, a highly successful television producer gloriously played with great ambiguity by Alan Alda's slipping between attractive and unattractive traits as easily as a duck takes to water.
Allen is a marginally successful documentary filmmaker whose great ambition is to do a documentary on the life of a philosopher (probably a professor at NYU, loosely based perhaps on Sydney Hook). He is hooked up with Alda's TV producer to do a biographical documentary on the producer's career for PBS. Alda recommends Allen to PBS only as a favor to his sister.
While the events leading to the `Crime' causes intense guilt and remorse on the part of Landau, his connection to the crime goes undetected by the police and he wakes up one morning with his sense of guilt lifted from his shoulders. The irony is that Allen's trivial misdemeanor is published by his loosing his wife, loosing his contract to do the documentary for the producer, and loosing his potential romantic interest (Farrow) to Alda.
I'm reluctant to give away much more of the plots, but I will say that the events are shot through with this kind of irony, including the fact that while Landau gets off Scott free, the rabbi, a totally virtuous character, goes blind. On top of this, the two principles are depicted in such a way that you admire the criminal, Landau and feel little sympathy for his victim or the inept, nebbish filmmaker who gets the short end of the stick from all his colleagues and relatives.
And through all of this, there is a finely crafted vein of humor, including a little aphorism from Alda on the nature of humor when he says that `If it bends, its funny. If it breaks, it's not'.
This movie twists and turns and bends and threatens to break, and never does. Truly one of Allen's best!. "
Undisputedly, Allen's most brilliant and mature movie.
Veronica | Brooklyn, NY | 06/22/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What can I say about this movie, except that I have seen it more times than I can count. Each time I watch it, something more is revealed and to me that is the sign of truly excellent writing. The characters are three-dimensional, each with their own idiosyncracies and contradictions. The separate plots compliment each other and stay distinct till the very end, yet they both deal with fundamental human issues and dilemmas. The cast is first-rate. Much of the movie is seen through Allen's character; as always, a cynical and unhappy man, yet you leave the film feeling a certain satisfaction and a greater insight into human behavior. The philosopher is a second narrator, in a sense, and his points of view are pertinent to both of the parallel plots. His suicide adds a twist to the story, where the viewer is suddenly left unsure on how to feel about his poignant words which we once trusted and valued. Overall, the movie is a gem and should be seen by every serious Woody Allen fan as well as those who can't stand him."
Leaves the appreciating viewer in awe.
Interplanetary Funksmanship | 06/30/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Granted, I am a very devoted Woody Allen fan. However, that does not mean I like everyone of his movies w/o question. I can barely get thru some of his "earlier, funnier" movies. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film that I quite honestly cannot believe. It is proof that there are things only Woody can accomplish. The drama of the scence in which Landau imagines discussing his plan with his rabbi leaves me as awestruck as the humor of viewing Woody's rough draft of the documentary he makes of Alda. To laugh at the latter scene would not do it justice, it is simply too brilliant. Alan Alda is so perfectly directed by Allen. He is the perfect actor to repeatedly declare the empty, psuedo-intellectual, "If it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it isn't". The theme of eyes and seeing is interesting: the doctor can't make the rabbi see, and as the rabbi tries to make the doctor "see", he goes blind himself, and does not know if he has succeeded or not. Alda is so obnoxious, and Farrow so sweet, that one becomes ever aware of how women are all too often unable to choose the right man. Absolutely Brilliant! Possibly his best, certainly his most ambitious."