Movie Reviews

Review: 'Irrational Man'

By David LeeMovies - 30 July 2015 9:46 AM | Updated 9:46 AM

Review: 'Irrational Man'

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

Woody Allen is without a doubt one of the most prolific living filmmaking legends still actively working today, churning out one new feature film almost every year in the past five decades.

'Irrational Man' is the 46th feature film written and directed by this American auteur, and despite the mixed reviews and reception from critics, the film marks Allen’s return to exploring his favorite themes – taboo romantic relationships, existentialism, getting away with crime and murder. A tale of morality veering more towards drama than comedy.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe, a newly-arrived philosophy professor at Rhode Island's fictional Braylin College. Abe is at rock bottom emotionally, unable to find any meaning or joy in life as he feels that everything he’s tried to do, from political activism to teaching, hasn’t made any difference to satisfy his idealism to better the world.

“Much of philosophy is verbal masturbation,” he tells his class, off-handedly dismissing his entire field of study. Perhaps because of this attitude, the brooding Abe becomes a campus lust object, and very soon becames romantically involved with two women: Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a lonely professor who wants him to rescue her from her unhappy marriage and elope with her to Spain, and Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), his best student, who also becomes his closest friend.

While Jill loves her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley), she finds Abe’s tortured, artistic personality and tragic past irresistible. Borderline obssessed with him, she can't stop talking about Abe in front of her boyfriend and her parents. Her fascination with him grows even as Abe displays signs of mental imbalance, such as him taking a demonstration of ‘Russian Roulette’ a little too seriously during a casual social gathering, almost killing himself in the process.

Nevertheless, Abe keeps rejecting Jill’s romantic advances until pure chance changes everything when Abe and Jill overhear a stranger’s conversation and become drawn in. Once Abe makes a choice to take action to help the stranger in his own macabre way, he is able to embrace his life to the fullest again, and accept Jill’s love.

INSPIRED SCRIPTING AND CASTING

Coming off from leading roles in 'The Master' and 'Inherent Vice', and the infamous mockumentary 'I’m Still Here' playing mostly characters suffering from serious existential crisis issues, Joaquin Phoenix is well-suited to play the off-kilter titular character in his first ever collaboration with Woody Allen.

Despite his character flaws, it is not difficult for audiences to empathise with his character and understand the motivations behind his actions, however ‘wrong’ or ‘irrational’ they may seem. Emma Stone returns in her second straight movie in a row working with Woody Allen after last year’s minor hit 'Magic in the Moonlight'.

'Irrational Man' is a much darker film than 'Magic in the Moonlight', and Emma shares great chemistry with her leading co-star portraying the beguiled Jill really well.

An inspired device, which is often used in Woody Allen films, is the voiceover narration, and for this film, we have not one but two voiceovers from the two leading protagonists to convey the inner thoughts running of Abe and Jill, sometimes almost concurrently. Ironically, we see how disconnected and misguided two people can be despite thinking they're sharing a special moment or direction together.

The witty dialogue here showcases Allen in fine vintage form, with his philosophical musings and citations of great philosophers delivered in spades by Abe’s college professor.

Allen’s acute observation of the dark side and complexities of the human psyche digs deeper than the typical genre conventions of a crime murder drama, and the surprise ending is also doubles as clever homage to Hitchcock.

EFFECTIVE SOUNDTRACK AND CINEMATOGRAPHY

Technical credits from frequent Allen collaborators such as cinematographer Darius Khondji complements the story and mood well, but the standout element of this film has to be the music, with a running jazz theme ‘The In Crowd’ playing ominously over many scenes involving Abe’s character, setting the tempo and tone with its infectious beat.

As with any Woody Allen production, one can sure expect class and quality. 'Irrational Man' delivers a very high standard of filmmaking in spades.

The comedic wit of this film may not have been as crowd pleasing as 'Midnight In Paris', Allen’s most commercially successful film to date, nor is it as serious and dramatic as 'Matchpoint', nevertheless this in-depth character and smart philosophical study will be a joy to watch for fans of Woody Allen as well as the general movie going audience alike. 

'Irrational Man' is now showing in cinemas

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