Crime and Punishment ★★★★

Well, this is a mightily long-winded metaphor for something obvious: switching from law to philosophy is a great way for a college student to ruin his or her life. That's clear enough in the beginning of the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, who has fallen to abject poverty since he decided to abandon law school for a life of contemplation. These two disciplines eventually intercept through the narcissistic delusion that he can work around the moral and legal system, which he will put to the test through delusions of being a vigilante. He endeavors to relieve some of his and others' poverty by taking out his corrupt pawnbroker, but when the job goes off with a number of hitches, - including the unexpected murder of the pawnbroker's bystanding sister - he might have to lie low. As if tensions and philosophical fodder weren't high enough, his mother and sister visit for our man's input on which one of two suitors will become his brother-in-law. The pressure finally gets to Raskolnikov as he confides in his new girlfriend, whose own life as a prostitute is apparently so awful that she vows to join Raskolnikov's exile to Siberia if he confesses his crime. Ain't none of this happy enough to warrant a color palette, but boy, was I "happy" to watch this.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic source material does have fundamental flaws, not the least of which is its sprawl, the bending of so many dense plot layers, subplots and tonal shifts around an embarrassment of characters. This is pretty convoluted stuff, and with this relatively faithful adaptation, one's patience will definitely be challenged by the utterly exhaustive development of most every element unto monotony. The slow-burn progression through 3.5+ hours is enlivened only by surrealist stylistic turns or psychedelic toning to make sure that the impatience are distanced, and the invested so captivated that the pace is only a minor, albeit very distinct inconvenience. Worse, it is oppressively dour, maybe even singular in its bearing down the constant intensity looming over a script that has more texture than that, while the tense music, important pacing and harsh acting all function to depress. Just as Lev Kulidzhanov uses this bleakness to deepen an epic artistry and extensive storytelling, Fyodor Dostoyevsky used it to deepen all of his pompous philosophizing and legitimize the constant theatrical melodrama. This is an increasingly preposterous, or at least dated tragic saga that stretches intellectual bounds, brutalizes your emotions, and fattens the plot something fierce, until one simply grows weary of its heft after a while. It's too grand to be great after a while, too hard to be entirely worth the time, but it is always reaching for that greatness from its very foundation.

Dostoyevsky's classic is a harrowing and complex tragedy that, a relic of its time, resonates across any dramatic standard for its intricate narrative based in full characters and the lofty ideas they wax. The definitive adaptation for its runtime and authentic Russian aesthetic, Nikolai Figurovsky's and Lev Kulidzhanov's script goes all into deep philosophies on empathy and humanity's natural burden of suffering and futile morality, leaving the question of who, if anyone has the right to decide fate (Relevant socialist undertones supplement Dostoyevsky's nihilism). All of this high-concept preaching organically works into the ceaselessly glowing dialogue, as breaks of healthy levity and concise exposition finesse an immense character roster, and jaw-dropping dramatic speeches realize a complex, if overly brooding tragic lead. Georgiy Taratorkin gives an astonishing performance, always carrying himself with weighty, weathered cynicism that has linings of a narcissistic charisma, shattered by the horror of a fatal mistake, deepened by love, and textured by a maddening confrontation of his vulnerabilities. Such a forceful performance seems to blend into an integral atmosphere, meticulously calculated down to old-fashioned cinematography, by Vyacheslav Shumsky, that mixes classical noir with then-modern lighting skills to bury the grit into your brain. The psychedelia becomes overbearing in the best way as Kulidzhanov disarms you with subtle, experimental sound mixing and Mikhail Ziv's terrifyingly surreal score, horrifying you when tensions escalate, and driving you mad when frightful set pieces checkmark our man's own breakdown. These masterful strokes simply stop as the film begins to drag through its second half, but as fleeting as the greatness is, Kulidzhanov's faith in the natural weight of an epic classic, in all of its beauty and ugliness, amounts to a challenge that's more than worth enduring.

As this faithful adaptation to an eternally daunting epic gets more and more convoluted, and more and more melodramatic, the slow-handed and brutally depressive tone kind of gets too tiresome for this to be truly great, which is more a testament to the greatness of this complex saga and its nihilistic, now-socialist-tinged philosophizing, and of the acting, dialogue, characterization and mind-bendingly artful direction that make Lev Kulidzhanov's "Crime and Punishment" a fittingly hard take on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's magnum opus, eminently rewarding in its morbid grace and profound impact.

4.25/5 - Excellent