Well I guess I the self proclaimed Woody Allen authority should fittingly be the first to see this, and in all honesty this is the first time I have caught a Woody Allen film on the big screen. The comparissons to Crimes and Misdemeanors is relavent and there is certainly evidence to support it here. Allen was often quoted as saying that he wished his comic subplot was removed from Crimes and Misdemeanors and the film just focused on Saul Bellow's moral delemna. Well roughly 15 years later he gets his chance, takes his story out of the country, and makes the morally ambiguous film he wanted years ago.
The cast is in amazing form, and I think it is a blessing that Allen for once in the last two decades avoided major movie stars. Sure Scarlett Johansen is earning A-list credentials these days, but she is somewhat supporting, and after The Island she may have dipped a bit on the popularity charts. Her performance however good is still typical of the Allen heroine, alluring at first, but ultimately obsessive. Allen is a mysoginist, let's face it, and it shows in his movies countless times.
Chloe (Emily Mortimer) is by far the most typical Allen character. She is agressor in the relationship with Chris. She is all about offering her help, and it is her that makes the suggestion of where should they first have sex. Likewise she is the loving unsuspecting wife who wants the baby, coaxes him into marriage, and is generally needy. Allen males generally don't have to work too hard, and if they do it is only because obsessive women like Chloe and Nola (Johannsen) make it so. Nola takes the role once given to Angelica Huston in Crimes and Misdeanors and although it's nothing new, she has a much more alluring quality with her youth that was lacking in the earlier film.
Allen's existentialism comes roaring back here. Once again he gets to believing that there is no point in the world, and I for one am glad this side of Allen has returned. He's avoided anything serious or philosophical in his last several films, so it is a welcome rememberence of Allen the more serious filmmaker, and incarnation I honestly preferred to the comedian. Although this isn't Allen taking himself too seriously as he did in September, but he still isn't funny here. In fact I don't recall a laugh here, but there still isn't an overwhelming tension built up. There is a slight relief laugh near the end, but to discuss it would give away far too much of the plot.
When murder gets involved Allen instantly becomes obsessed with human guilt. The debate arises as to whether or not you can sensibly get away with it, not in terms of the police, but morally. This was the main theme of Crimes and Misdemeanors where Saul nearly cracked but wound up eventually living with the guilt is something that has plagued Allen since. This belief that man could get away with murder and would only get caught if he wanted to. First rate Allen, and if this is a return to form, I welcome it.
Grade A -