26 September 2019 | Cineanalyst
To Be or Not to Be: Is There a Point to Yet Another "Crime and Punishment?"
The latest of several impoverished movie adaptations of Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," this Australian production struggles to find any meaning in its own existence. I've been seeking out a bunch of these films--over twenty now--since reading the novel, so I do think it's imperative that there be a compelling reason for another version of the same basic narrative. Dostoevsky found meaning in God, but some filmmakers have subverted the text in interesting ways, from the Expressionism of Robert Wiene ("Raskolnikow" (1923), to the heterodoxy of "Pickpocket" (1959), to the existentialism of Woody Allen ("Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), "Match Point" (2005) and "Irrational Man" (2015)). Others have tried to find new meaning by removing the story from Saint Petersburg and the 19th Century and placing it elsewhere in modern times (from post-Soviet Moscow in the 2002 international production, to Almaty ("Student" (2012)) and from Helsinki ("Rikos ja rangaistus" (1983)) to the Philipines ("Norte, the End of History" (2013)). Instead, this "Crime & Punishment" seems to have pathetically tried to tack on some dystopian social commentary onto what is otherwise a blandly straightforward retelling of the same story.
Axe the pointless opening text regarding obstacles to education, a police state and other blather, and kill the additional text needlessly providing nonsense names for locations and dates without years, and at least then this would be a less-pretentious, if ordinary, adaptation. Seriously, there's next to nothing in the script or visuals to support the ridiculous idea of a dystopia established textually. It's as though someone decided to put that rubbish in after the picture was already made. Additionally, there is quite a bit of self-conscious stylization here, but it's likewise not integrated particularly well. Shots of reflections, the repetitive imagery emphasizing Raskolnikov's Napoleon Complex, the spiral motif, the neon lights, the reds from his suspenders to the entire interior design of a brothel. Some of it looks nice, but mostly it feels pointless. The silver fox of a Raskolnikov here also hunches his shoulders for no other reason, I suppose, then to give what is admittedly a passionate performance. This is easily the most amusing Luzhin, renamed "Quincey" here, that I've seen, too, including because of the lecherous way he kisses women. Yet, the rest of the characterizations are mostly uninteresting. I do like the addition of electronic surveillance, though, and Raskolnikov's hovel of a flat covered in books is some of the best production design I've seen in any of the "Crime and Punishment" pictures.
In the end, however, like the movie's Svidrigaïlov, renamed "Professor Sutherland" here, we pick up the skull from "Hamlet" (because, I guess, professors have such memorabilia lying around their apartments) and face the question of whether the movie need exist at all.