Woody Allen (writer and director of Crimes and Misdemeanors), notorious for doing some things badly, does at least two things well: he asks good questions, and he creates interesting characters to ask those questions.
Much of Allen’s work is painfully autobiographical. The questions he asks appear to be his own, and he himself is one of the characters of his creation. So his own neuroses and quirks fill the story and the screen. But underneath the tragi-comic idiosyncrasies, he’s really not such an odd duck.
Crimes and Misdemeanors plays on some of Allen’s favorite themes: the unfairness of life, frustrated desire, unfulfilled ambition, conflicted conscience, honesty, mediocrity, and humorous ironies that spin out of human imperfections and flawed choices.
Allen effectively weaves together a cast of complex characters made up of Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Sam Watterson, Mia Farrow, Claire Bloom, Alan Alda, and of course, himself, all of whom give very fine performances. Crimes and Misdemeanors plays like a thriller, like a classic film noire. But its darkness emanates not from ominous people and situations, but from the human heart.
Yet Allen gives us something different in this film. His style of realism gives each of us watching the story unfold full knowledge of the situations, and thereby invites us to ask the questions with the characters as each situation develops. Exactly how selfish are we? How far would we go to protect our happiness and reputation? Is our comfort worth another person’s life?
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Allen offers answers to the questions he raises.