Woody Allen is a craftsmen in the world of comedy, delicately composing films that seriously deal with existential ennui in the most absurd of ways. His 1991 homage to German Expressionism is certainly an example of this from its shadowy cinematography to its narrative, which is irrevocably preoccupied with death. The film has a few laughs, more than its share of philosophical pondering and a cast of Hollywood's most respected outsiders. It has, like so many of Allen's films, the perfect blend of artistic distance and mainstream accessibility making it a film that is easily enjoyed by a multitude of viewers. It is one of Allen's lesser known works, but certainly one of his best to date.
The film consists of multiple interconnected stories, each of which relates to a local killer strangling innocent bystanders. In classic Allen fashion the film centers around a man named Kleinman, played by Woody Allen. He, against his own discretion, is a member of a vigilante group set out to catch and kill the murderer, and as such has been summoned to find the killer. Meanwhile, a traveling circus is in town, one that is quite reminiscent of Tod Browning's Freaks. Two of the circus members are couple Irmy (Mia Farrow) and the Clown (John Malcovich) who after yet another argument have decided to spend the night apart, leading the confused Irmy to a brothel, led by a garrulous Madame (Kathy Bates). This allows Irmy to meet fledgling academic Jack (John Cusack), who after one moment of lovemaking falls in love with her and seeks her companionship again. However, at this point Irmy meets Kleinman and they unintentionally attempt to find the killer, which in the end leads to Kleinman briefly trapping him, with the help of the circus musician. In the end of the film the characters arguably remain the same, Kleinman is alone, Irmy remains in an unhappy relationship and the killer goes on killing. It is Allen style existentialism at its finest, no resolution...only despair.
One of the genius elements of this film is its commentary on the sensationalizing of murderers and crime sprees. Each character shown is existing within their daily lives, the fact that a murderer roams the city is arbitrary to their actions, in fact many of them move through the night ignoring this issue. It is a film concerned with minutia as opposed to grand ideas. Yet it reminds viewers that the individual existence is truly arbitrary and can disappear instantaneously with little explanation or reason. It also shows the futility of planning for, or studying, the unknown. The films doctor, Kleinman and even the couple attempt to rationalize their actions only to discover that detailed planning only results in disappointment. In the vein of Allen's auteurist tendencies it is a film that posits assuming the worse, because good things rarely happen, and if they do it is only briefly.
I will only recommend this film to die hard Woody Allen fans, or people who appreciate expressionist filmmaking. If not it is just another film that has moments of laughter, and brief exposes into self-worth and the human existence.