Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 228: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) - Rank 5/5


Woody Allen is an incredible versatile director when he chooses to be. Recent, lifeless offerings, such as "Anything Else" or "Hollywood Ending" seem more like vehicles for Allen to work alongside a heartthrob (be it current by public opinion or former) that he seemingly has an off-screen crush on. But he can excel at opposite ends of the spectrum, with comedies like "Love and Death," "Annie Hall" or even the recent "Small Time Crooks" being some of the funniest films I've seen, and more serious turns succeeding as superior and unique dramas ("Hannah and Her Sisters," "Purple Rose of Cairo"). With regards to the latter category, I think that "Crimes and Misdemeanors" may be Allen's best in this department.

There are two tales, seemingly unconnected, playing out parallel to one another. In one, Allen is a Jewish filmmaker trying to find success through his career, set against the backdrop of New York, and he finds himself falling in love with a television executive, played by Mia Farrow (yeah, that role is a real stretch). He's assigned the task of shooting a documentary on the creative mind of a decidedly unfunny comedian played with excellent sleaze by Alan Alda. The second story could easily stand on its own without interruptions by the first tale. It follows the actions of esteemed ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) whose love affair with another woman (Anjelica Huston) is about to blow up in his face and ruin his career and marriage. As a result, he begins to seriously consider murdering her, but the ultimate question is not whether he can have the order for her extermination executed, it's: can he live with the guilt?

Tying the entire film together is the phenomenal performance of Landau. While Landau was nominated for an Oscar for the role, he lost to Denzel Washington (for his performance in "Glory"). While I've not seen all the films starring his contenders for the year, it's difficult for me to imagine that anyone could outshine the quiet, internal fury that the tormented Dr. Rosenthal does. It's so moving that I found myself endeavoring to outsmart the film by figuring out how the two "unrelated" story lines would sync up. When they finally do, the final five minutes of the film a subdued conversation between Allen and Landau, the poignancy of the moment reminds you of what a brilliant writer Allen can be.

Watch the Trailer

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