Thursday, July 22, 2010

Movie Notes – Crime and Punishment

I have start this little rant by mentioning that Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is one of my favorite novels. If I had a top five, it would be there. But I also believe that a movie doesn’t have to be exactly like the book that serves as its source. I won’t go into that too much except that it is often not practical and to do so would deny the artistic vision of many people. Deviations don’t bother me all that much, unless of course they make for a bad movie and that is the case here.
Some of the story is intact. Raskolnikov kills an old pawnbroker and then her sister, is haunted by guilt he won’t acknowledge and hunted by the detective Porfiry Petrovich, opposes his sister’s engagement to the slimy Luzhin, is moved at the same time he argues with the religious prostitute Sonia, and eventually confesses his crime and is sent to Siberia for punishment.
But truly unnecessary plot changes merely make the story more confusing instead of help to make clear what is going on. For example, Luzhin pays for Sonia’s services and though he is supposed to marry Raskolnikov’s sister, has no problem with the future brother-in-law knowing. Razhumikin’s friendship, which is invaluable not only to Raskolnikov but to holding together important plot points, is barely acknowledged. The romantic relationship between Sonia and Raskolnikov appears out of the blue, though it really developed (and made more sense because of it) over a great deal of time. Perhaps most egregious of all is Porfiry’s voice over at the end of Raskolnikov’s trial and incarceration. Lines are added to show Raskolnikov was given a lighter sentence due to “temporary insanity.”
Religion should be considered a main character of the novel because it informs the actions of many of the other characters and of the world in which Raskolnikov wrestles with what he has done. He refuses to accept, for most of the novel, the humanity of the people he has killed. Sonia, though a prostitute, has a deep faith that not only sustains her, but affects those she comes in contact with. But religion is thrown into the movie like an afterthought and Dostoevsky's story of hard redemption is lost. In the novel, Raskolnikov takes Sonia’s cross and confesses in public before going to the police. In the movie, there is no such public confession.
All that might not be a big deal to some if Menahem Golan had make a good movie despite the significant differences. He did not.
The setting is just, well, stupid and confusing. The color and the autos make me think this is set in the 1970s Moscow instead of 19th century St. Petersburg. Yet in one scene, Raskolnikov finds Sophia in a club and a band is playing something between grunge and heavy metal. The film appears to have the coloring of a 70s print. There is a bright sun throughout the movie despite the dark themes and the dank atmosphere of the story. Rooms where people in abject poverty seem fairly well, if sometimes modestly furnished and very well lit.
The acting is quite terrible. Even the great John Hurt can’t save this, though he does a credible Porfiry. It is no small wonder he is listed in front of the other actors though he does not play the main character: he is the only actor is isn’t downright rotten. Vanessa Redgrave and Margot Kidder are two other knows actresses and they over act wildly. To their defense, their lines are often so bad, I’m not sure who could have made them work. Crispin Glover, as Raskolnikov, does about as poor a job as I’ve ever seen on film. When Raskolnikov has a monologue, Glover looks like an excited high school kid doing a play. Throughout the movie, and at some of the most inopportune moments (as when expressing rage) Glover has this creepy grin that never seems to go away, as if he’s stuck that way.
The music is insufferable. Strings seem to whine and wheeze and often the music is dramatic at the wrong time looping strains like a dentist’s drill. Sometimes the score seems to overpower the dialogue, as if trying to add importance to banal scenes. But it is mostly distracting throughout.
This is the kind of movie that lazy students find to watch instead of reading the classic book. If that becomes the case, they’ll fail not only because they have the wrong content, but because they may not be able sit through the whole thing.

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