Crimes and Misdeneanors
November 3, 1989 | Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) is a pillar of the New York Jewish community, a well-heeled and widely respected doctor whose model family and philanthropic enterprises appear to mark him as one of God's chosen.
He is modest to a fault during public testimonials, smiling as he recalls the sense of righteousness instilled in him by his devoutly religious father. ''My father used to tell me, ‘The eyes of God are everywhere,’” Judah says. And that's why, Judah jokingly suggests, he has specialized in ophthalmology.
Judah Rosenthal is a fraud. For the past two years, he has enjoyed an affair with Dolores (Anjelica Huston), a passionate and frightfully dependent airline stewardess. She knows some embarrassing if not incriminating secrets about Judah's financial dealings. She knows where Judah lives, and how to contact his glacially proper wife (Claire Bloom). If she wanted to, she could make life very difficult for Judah. And as the extraordinary new movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors begins, that's precisely what Dolores wants to do.
Cliff Stern is a fraud. Seething with self-loathing, almost choking on the brackish taste of his own bile, he seems to stoop under the weight of his own hopeless, helpless jealousy whenever he's anywhere near Lester. Long estranged from Wendy (Joanna Gleason) -- his bored wife, Lester's adoring sister -- Cliff is desperately attracted to an attractive Public TV producer, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), who's supervising a documentary about Lester. Halley, too, has contempt for Lester. At least, she thinks she does.
So Cliff -- providentially offered a chance for revenge and, maybe, true love -- agrees to direct the documentary, hoping to expose Lester to the world as a fatuous, self-satisfied jerk.
Much like the last indisputably great movie written and directed by Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors has the multifaceted density and prodigiously vivid characterizations usually found only in a great novel. Just as important, Allen's new film is every bit as enthralling as Hannah in its artfully seamless blend of the uproariously comic and the thoughtfully serious.
Here, the balance of contradictory impulses is sustained even in his own fine performance as Cliff, an engagingly funny idealist with a spiteful, mean-spirited streak. Crimes and Misdemeanors makes almost every other film around right now seem as puny and ill-nourishing as Happy Hour hors d'oeuvres.
In short, Allen never allows his dramatic comedy to be weighed down by the enormity of its subject matter.
Can there really be justice in a world where the Holocaust is allowed to happen? And, indeed, if such a barbarity can occur, who's to say with certainty that a lesser crime -- say, the murder of an inconvenient mistress -- will be punished?
If there was a weak performance, or a false moment, in Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen left it on the cutting room floor.