Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)

4/4,5

USA; Woody Allen


Parental Guidance – Infrequent Sexual References


A wealthy and respected ophthalmologist, Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), happily married and central figure of the bourgeois New York Jewish community, finds himself in dire straits when an illicit love affair unravels and menaces his perfect and serene existence. His mistress threatens to reveal their two-year affair unless he gets a divorce and marries her. With the support of his Mafia-affiliated brother, Rosenthal responds to the blackmail in a most shocking and brutal manner. A parallel thread charts the romantic entanglements of a film director (Woody Allen) who falls for a producer (Mia Farrow) and, after years of disastrous wedlock, sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

Allen is famous for being particularly harsh on himself and, more precisely, on his rich and ample filmography. If it is true that the given the sheer mass of movies he regularly churned out over a career spanning 5 decades, it would have been impossible to stay perfectly consistent.  But if I have yet to see a Woody Allen movie that is not charming, buoyant and unctuous, not all of them are as intellectually and morally exigent as Crimes and Misdemeanours. The film is the pinnacle of a certain allenian pessimism and cynicism, which invariably comes supercharged, but most definitively not sugar-coated, with his landmark wit. The script shifts from the grave to the hilarious is a heartbeat, without jarring tonal dissonances. The maxim may be a cliché, but it’s fair to say it's so funny it hurts.

In charting one basically decent man’s dehumanisation under the crushing weight of his incapacity to face responsibility, Allen hunts on unfamiliar and dangerous territory for a former stand-up comedian. Yet he lends to the story such a distressing simplicity and lack of pathos, making it real and palpable, that all doubts are dispelled.

Backed by an excellent cast (particularly Allen himself, who delivers his usual heightened and neurotic act, like a surge of energy that instantly revitalises the ensemble, and Allen Alda) Crimes and Misdemeanours is one of Allen’s best and most profound endeavours. The path to its tragic heart is peppered with comic gems, but eventually not even this can conceal it’s a descent to Hell.

 

Crimes and misdemeanours
 


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