Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley.
Even as he nears 80, Woody Allen continues to churn out a one film a year on average and shows little sign on slowing down. But with such a prolific output it is inevitable that he would sometimes repeat themes and ideas. Irrational Man is his 46th film and it explores themes of murder and morality, concepts which he also dealt with in the superior Crimes And Misdemeanors and the lesser Match Point. Irrational Man is less of a comedy and more of a drama about moral corruption, crime and punishment, romance and existential angst.
The film centres around Abe Lucas (played by a pot bellied Joaquin Phoenix), a dissolute and jaded philosophy lecturer who arrives at a prestigious but quiet Ivy League college with a well established reputation for womanising and alcoholism. And while his presence is the source for much gossip and speculation amongst the faculty, Lucas’ lectures disinterring many of the famous existential thinkers and writers make him popular with the students. Abe is also sleeping with Rita (Parker Posey), a fellow faculty member who desperately wants to escape her unhappy marriage. Abe unfortunately though is impotent which doesn’t help his bitter mood.
But none is more obsessed with Lucas and his troubled past than Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). When Jill and Abe accidentally overhear a conversation in a diner concerning the alleged corruption of Judge Spangler in a bitter divorce hearing, Abe is suddenly sparked out of his apathy and driven to act to rid the world of this man who has brought so much misery and unhappiness.
Inspired largely by Dostoyevsky’s famous novel Crime And Punishment, Abe sets out to commit what he thinks is the perfect murder. His plotting the perfect crime lifts him out of his emotional funk and makes him feel alive again. But as usual, there are consequences for Abe’s actions and these eventually affect Jill and Rita as well.
Irrational Man is not one of Allen’s best films, but it has the occasional vintage moment. Some of the dialogue comes across as pretentious rather than realistic – do college students even talk like that? This is a more serious film from Allen, and although there are witty moments littered throughout the script here the filmmaker is more interested in exploring deeper philosophical concerns and moral quandaries. And of course there is more of the older man/younger woman dynamic which is a constant motif in his films. It is a little hard to fathom Jill’s attraction towards the misanthropic Abe.
This is Stone’s second film for Allen, after the more lightweight and frivolous Magic In The Moonlight, and she seems to be his new muse. But she has a bright screen presence and is easily the best thing here. Phoenix himself seems a little uneasy and uncomfortable with his role here as the morally bankrupt professor.
On the positive side though, the film has been beautifully shot by his regular cinematographer Darius Khondji, who makes the most of the gorgeous Rhode Island locations. And I loved the jaunty and vigorous piano-infused, bouncy jazz score that accompanies the action.