I've written before on here about how I want to try and see more of certain directors' work. Woody Allen is one such director and so, the other night, I settled down to watch Manhattan; here are some thoughts......
To me, and it can't be stated strong enough how much of a newcomer I am to Allen's work, he just seems to have a way of creating characters that are believable. Yet, at the same time, they are perfect for populating the gorgeous cinematic landscapes he creates. Manhattan is an excellent example of this. In the film Allen plays Isaac, an iteration of the same scrawny, neurotic, insecure intellectual that populates his other recognised masterpiece, Annie Hall. The movie follows Isaac through a period of his life living in - yep, you guessed it - Manhattan. Isaac is always picking out things about the city that irritate him so as to avoid addressing the real issues in his life. We witness him go on about how the tap water is brown, while his love interest is demanding answers from him. And, despite the amusing nature of these idiocracies, what drives the story is the love interests. Isaac is drifting through his life, dating a 17 year old girl (Mariel Hemingway), when he falls for his best friend's mistress (Diane Keaton).
Visually, the film's depiction of the ensuing drama is just beautiful. It's hard to think of adjectives that can effectively summarise it. The best thing is to do is to look at the image above, and then just trust me that Manhattan is chock-a-block filled with these kinds of moments. The remarkable thing is that this film is totally dialogue driven and yet the composition of each shot is taken with such care. Allen also wisely shoots in black and white, allowing him to light the faces of his characters more effectively while at the same time emphasising the difficulties of urban life. An uneasy cinema scene is the film's best example of this and also the stand-out moment for this reviewer; each character's face is impeccably lit by the glow of the cinema screen, a modern, urbane technology, and each face squirms with the awkwardness of the situation.
At its heart, however, Manhattan is a movie about moral dilemas. Early on, Allen's character Isaac says as much "if you saw a guy drowning in the freezing water, what would you do?". Its not preachy, as Isaac tries to avoid in his novel during the opening narration, but is instead endearing. Allen's wit and elegance infuses his direction, to the extent that it carries Manhattan through these big themes.
Worth every second.