“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)

By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer

One of Woody Allen’s darker films, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” tells two stories: one of Judah (Martin Landau), an ophthalmologist, who is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect the secrecy of his affair with a flight attendant, Dolores (Anjelica Huston), and the other of Cliff (Woody Allen), a documentary filmmaker forced to capture the life of Lester (Alan Alda), his wife’s arrogant brother, while falling in love with Halley (Mia Farrow), a woman who works for Lester. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” showcases two very different ways of life in New York City and how certain choices affect those people.

The genius juxtaposition in the film is in the stories of Judah and Cliff. Judah, who has called upon his brother Jack to take care of Dolores, so that she would not tell his wife of their affair, represents the dark side of morality. His scenes tend to stay in his home outside of the city, rather than the city itself, or in shady meetings with Jack or Dolores. Cliff, on the other hand, provides relief from the heaviness of Judah’s storyline. He represents life and happiness, and the brighter side of New York. Oftentimes, Cliff takes his niece out to the movies, which has already been established as a source of serenity and comfort for Woody.

The film opens with a high-end banquet honoring the work of Judah. Like many things in Woody’s films, it is a classy affair. Here is the hub of high society, where you would least expect a murder to happen. In this, the film becomes more interesting. It would be easy for a crime to occur in dark alley by a member of the mafia, but in making it be by a seemingly regular Joe, Woody succeeds in displaying the inherent evil in common people. In some ways, the city, and Judah’s house, works to distract us from the possibility that such an act can be executed by a well-respected doctor.

In many films, New York is portrayed as a gritty city that is seen as gloomy. Usually, this is not Woody’s perception of it, but “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is an exception. It is a city where murders are ordered by wealthy doctors, right under our noses, and go unnoticed. It is as if Cliff’s story is how Woody sees New York, but Judah’s story is how it actually is, deep beneath the surface.

What is most interesting about “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is its theme of religion. Woody Allen is known for being an atheist, but this film is largely reliant on questions of God and religion. Though every film by Woody is scattered with philosophy, this is one of the most metaphysical. It leaves us with the thought of how the choices we make can change our morality and how the notion of guilt does not seem to break the conscience of all people. Sometimes, we have the capability of doing a terrible thing, beyond comprehension, but for the rest of our lives, we carry it with us without a shred of compunction.


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