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New Release Review - IRRATIONAL MAN

A philosophy professor seeks an escape from his existential funk through committing murder.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley




"While his previous recent non-comedic dabblings, Matchpoint and Cassandra's Dream, have been misfires, Allen finally gets it right with Irrational Man, his darkest film to date."





The latest installment in Woody Allen's prolific career opens with the usual white Windsor typeface on black background. Noticeably absent is the customary jazz tune. Instead, the credits are underscored by the sound of a car engine. Immediately we're given a clue that we're in for something different from Allen. Four decades ago, when the director was in the midst of his "early, funny ones", who could have predicted he would explore the crime genre in the twilight of his years. While his previous recent non-comedic dabblings, Matchpoint and Cassandra's Dream, have been misfires, Allen finally gets it right with Irrational Man, his darkest film to date.
That aforementioned car engine is revealed to belong to Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), a philosophy professor who takes a position at a college in a leafy New England town. Abe's pot-belly and slouchy demeanour betray his lack of self-worth; he's in an existential funk, and even the attentions of horny colleague Rita (Parker Posey) and smitten student Jill (Emma Stone) can't shake him out of it. Even little Abe has given up on life, failing to rise to the occasion for the past year.
Abe finds a new lease of life when he overhears a stricken woman's tale of how a corrupt judge is ruining her life. Inspired by the existentialists, he decides to kill the judge (his Arab), an act he reasons will make the world that small percentage better. Suddenly he's walking upright and enjoying the return of his libido, bedding both Rita and Jill, while keeping his plans from both.
Phoenix's Abe resembles an intellectual counterpoint to the animalistic character he portrayed in The Master, shuffling around in search of a reason to exist. Initially, he's a highly unlikeable sort, but the power of storytelling gets us on his side, and we're willing him on every step of his dastardly plan. It's not until a final act development that we realise how we've allowed ourselves to be strung along, and we're left feeling guilty, like when Jimmy Stewart delivers that scolding lecture at the climax of Hitchcock's Rope. Abe is a one-man Leopold & Loeb, so convinced of his own solipsism that he'll gladly commit murder, a proponent of Crowley's 'Do what thou will..' ethos. Yet, like Jill and Rita, we find him utterly compelling.
In the 21st century, we've seen a curious, gradual shift in Allen's film-making - he's now arguably a better director than writer. I'm not sure Allen himself is aware of this, as demonstrated by the inclusion of a pointless, didactic voiceover here, one that adds nothing (literally telling us what we're watching on screen at some points) but actually detracts from the mood of some scenes. Allen has morphed into one of the best visual storytellers working today. If only he knew it!



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