1989 / Best Director

Film #541: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Continuing our look at Woody Allen we journey to 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors; a film that features the director in a prominent role alongside Supporting Actor nominee Martin Landau. In a similar manner to another of Allen’s 1980’s films Hannah and Her Sisters, which we’ve previously looked at, Crimes and Misdemeanors follows a number of different plot lines before connecting them together in the final scene.

I personally felt the more compelling of the dual narratives in Crimes and Misdemeanors was that featuring Landau’s ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal and the troubles he has with his mistress Dolores. The film tells Judah’s story partly in flashback as we learn of how he met Dolores and how initially they were quite happy. However in the present day Dolores is constantly threatening to tell his wife of their dalliance and also of his supposed money laundering that she was privy to. Judah eventually turns to his less savoury brother Jack who tells him that he can make his problem go away by having Dolores taken care of. The rest of the film sees Judah struggle with his guilt as he seeks solace in the words of one of his patients, Ben a rabbi who is going blind. Ben is the character who links the two storylines as he’s brother-in-law to Allen’s struggling documentary film-maker Cliff. The film follows Cliff as he makes a documentary about his wife’s other brother Lester, a TV producer, and in the process falls in love with the film’s associate producer Halley Reed. Cliff’s love for Halley is thwarted by the fact that he’s still trapped in a loveless marriage and by the fact that Lester clearly is attracted to her to. The final act of the play sees Cliff and Judah meet at the wedding of Ben’s daughter in a scene which I consider to be one of the film’s best.

It’s easier to see why Allen received a directorial nomination for Crimes and Misdemeanors as it was a film that did more with the medium of film both in its use of flashbacks and camera angles. At the same time Crimes and Misdemeanors wasn’t nearly the accomplished film that Bullets Over Broadway was and I personally found it meandered from time to time. Whilst I felt the storyline featuring Judah was strong enough, I wasn’t a fan of Cliff’s plot save the rather sweet relationship he has with his young niece. I feel that part of the reason for this is that Cliff, as played by Allen, came across as a whining character who had little success but wasn’t doing that much to change it. Additionally I found the characters of both Halley and Lester to be boring and slimy in equal measure and ultimately I didn’t want to spend time with them. Allen’s original screenplay, which was also nominated for an Oscar, certainly had its moments but it wasn’t nearly as sharp or as funny as any of the other one of his films I’ve watched for this experiment. Of the cast I felt that Landau gave the most accomplished performance as a man racked with guilt over his various poor decisions but who at the same time had an air of dignity about him. For his role in the film Landau did receive a deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination however he would have to wait another five years to win that prize. The only other cast member who made an impression on me was Anjelica Huston as the tragic Delores as I found she made her character into the film’s most sympathetic and therefore you were able to understand why she constantly threatened to expose Jonah’s darker side.

One thing I am sure of is that Crimes and Misdemeanors definitely didn’t deserve a spot in that year’s Best Picture list which included classics such as Born on the Fourth of July and Dead Poet’s Society. In fact I was go as far as to say that Allen’s nomination for director wasn’t justified either especially in the year which Bruce Beresford wasn’t acknowledged for his role helming Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. Although I did enjoy some elements of Crimes and Misdemeanors overall I found it to be inconsistent and a little slapdash when compared to some of Allen’s other Oscar contenders.

Next up we continue our Woody Allen marathon with a black and white venture that was release five years prior to Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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