UK Release Date: 11th September 2015
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley
Synopsis: An enigmatic, introverted philosophy professor forms a romantic relationship with one of his students and contemplates whether it’s ever morally right to commit murder.
At this stage of his career, Woody Allen’s ouevre is rather hit and miss. He delivered one of his best films a few years ago with Midnight in Paris and led Cate Blanchett to a Best Actress Oscar with Blue Jasmine, but underwhelmed with last year’s rather lightweight Magic in the Moonlight. This year, he reunites with Moonlight star Emma Stone for Irrational Man, which is a wordy drama about philosophy, inappropriate power relationships and the complex morality of murder.
Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives at a new university as philosophy professor, in the midst of a crisis about whether his life is worth anything. His cynical perspective on life strikes a chord with student Jill (Stone), who becomes infatuated with Abe. This causes friction with her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) and Abe’s lustful colleague Rita (Parker Posey), which only intensifies when Abe decides to murder a corrupt judge.
Irrational Man is a wildly inconsistent film. At times, it’s an eloquent piece of work that recalls Allen’s best, but more often, it’s an unwieldy, overly verbose tale that feels more like a university lecture than a work of narrative cinema. It’s tough to point the finger of blame at anything other than Allen’s script, which is essentially a dissertation on morality as opposed to a big screen story. Allen is more interested in discussing his central thesis than creating compelling, even remotely believable, characters.
| "I wanted to be a world changer and I’ve ended up a passive intellectual who can’t fuck."
The central performances, from Phoenix and Stone, are a little awkward and offbeat. Whether this is by design or not, the result is a slightly stagey feel to proceedings and a total lack of chemistry between the performers. Phoenix looks bored of his own role and a miscast Stone fails to lift Irrational Man with her typical brand of wide-eyed quirk. The standout, in fact, is Parker Posey as Abe’s colleague and occasional lover, who is the first to smell a rat regarding the high-profile murder case dominating media in the area.
Murder itself is treated oddly by Allen in Irrational Man. There’s some intrigue in how Abe almost immediately begins to enjoy life again after poisoning the judge, but this soon unfolds into a fairly generic murder mystery narrative. Abe’s eventual disintegration is completely unbelievable and feels out of place for his character, particularly given his constant moral lectures about the nature of philosophy.
It’s this lack of levity that makes Irrational Man something of a chore to get through at times. The early part of the movie works through a standard late period Allen romance at a pedestrian pace before the slightly more intriguing mechanics of the thriller story get moving. It’s unusual to see Allen move so defiantly away from comedy and it’s not something that pays off here given the overly serious tone of what should have been a light confection.
| "So much of philosophy is just verbal masturbation."
When it comes down to it, Irrational Man is just too talky and pedestrian to make its narrative work. The performances are distinctly underwhelming and the story never hits the heights that its intriguing central conceit should have reached. It’s not essential Woody Allen by any means, but the director’s fans will likely find plenty to enjoy.
Pop or Poop?
Woody Allen has really dropped the ball with Irrational Man, which is a distinctly hit-and-miss tale of philosophy and murder, with two awkward performances at its centre.
The early, funny ones seem like a long time ago.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.