Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors ★★★★★

I think a lot of people point to Crimes and Misdemeanors as the end of Woody Allen's Golden Age (if they ever admit to him having one in the first place) of films both out of convenience (this being his last film in the 80s) and because it is the last qualified masterpiece that he created at the time. And true enough, the films would start to see a sharp decline shortly after this film came out, with occasional highlights.

After being marginally successful (by his standards) with two successive dramas, Crimes and Misdemeanors more successfully blends the two genres together to create a wholly effective film. Crimes and Misdemeanors rivals the depth of Annie Hall and Manhattan, though in a much different way, this time speaking more to the morality of right and wrong than any kind of commentary of relationships and human interaction. Allen takes inspiration from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, albeit with changing the conclusions of that work around quite a bit in the end.

It also helps that, unlike many of Allen's previous films Crimes and Misdemeanors feels much more like his own. When he is heavily inspired by (or copies wholesale) the filming styles of other directors (most notably Bergman), Allen is a good director who occasionally finds greatness. When he is doing more of his own thing, as he did with Annie Hall and this film, he always seems to be on point (at least at this time in his career).

This is easily Allen's best ensemble since Hannah and Her Sisters, with great performances coming from several corners. But it's Martin Landau, as the guilt-stricken opthamologist, who is the best in show even with great turns from Alan Alda, Mia Farrow and even Allen himself. Landau was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar (though you can make a strong argument for it being a lead role) and he probably deserved to win. As always the entire group is aided by Allen's deeply effective dialogue, and the great cinematography from Sven Nykvist.

Crimes and Misdemeanors may be the last film that Allen made that I qualify as a masterpiece (though he certainly would have high points, almost immediately following this film with Husbands and Wives). And it certainly does rank as one of his greatest achievements, both as a director and as a screenwriter. Everything works about this film, and in such a way that it feels different from the usual Woody Allen fare. If you think every movie he makes is just the same, this is a good place to start and try to deter that line of thought.