Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Movie a Day: Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen; 1989)

I have a real problem with Woody Allen's films. I like them, quite often an awful lot, but the Woody Allen character annoys the hell out of me. His character is the forerunner to all the irony-laden, undercutting films that have populated the cinematic landscape for too long, wherein any attempt to express something true and personal has to have a joke tacked onto it. Sometimes there's something there; sometimes we as people have trouble expressing ourselves, and when we accidentally let something slip, we can't help but cover up our embarassment with an attempt at humor. But this is never the case with Allen - he never presents his jokes as evasion, he presents them as jokes, often with time built in for a laugh.

This dichotomy is at the heart of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and by and large it works to have the film split between two stories of moral compromise. Allen's character is refreshingly restrained, and Martin Landau is characteristically wonderful, although his story is by far the most contrived (especially when it came to the wiseguy angle...certainly a forerunner to the first draft's Allen's been turning into full-length features over the last few years). But I was willing to ride with it because it was exploring important issues and asking meaningful questions.

Until the end, where Allen decided to literally discuss the underpinnings and themes of the story. Everything that was built into the film up to that point was suddenly spoken out loud, a clear reach to the back row of moviegoers who might have just barely caught onto what the film was all about, but needed to feel justified by having someone legitimize their thoughts. Woody, buddy, it's enough to get people to ask questions; if that's not enough for them, leave 'em.

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