Film Review: Irrational Man (USA, 2015)

Woody Allen is quite possibly the only living director who could make a dark comedy film about a perfect crime. Heck, he has kind of already done that with his previous film, Crimes & Misdemeanours. But in 2015 Irrational Man is a wry, tongue-in-cheek story about an older professor’s relationship with a younger woman. Sound familiar?

The film sees Emma Stone starring as Jill Pollard, a wide-eyed and fresh-faced philosophy student who is also quite naive. At a university in New England in the United States, a new philosophy lecturer is set to join the faculty’s ranks. Rumours, gossip and innuendo precede him, about his divorce, the loss of his friend and how his wife ran out on him. And the man that arrives is more than a little unhinged and likes dabbling in Russian roulette.

Joaquin Phoenix puts in a rather dark performance as the surly, fat and self-loathing, Abe Lucas. He often quotes Kant, Sartre and Dostoyevsky but he prefers preaching from experiences taken from the “University of Life”. It doesn’t take long for Jill to fall for Abe’s charms and to gush to her parents (who are also academics) and her boyfriend (Jamie Blackley) about this enigmatic lecturer. Abe is a womaniser and he’s also impotent but he does manage to ignite romantic interest and passion from another faculty member, an unhappy married lady named Rita (Parker Posey).

This film is quite a wordy one that is full of intellectual exchanges and duel narrations by Stone and Phoenix, which reveal the characters’ different and intimate points of view. Things change however when Abe happens to think up the perfect crime that could be executed by an individual without a motive. It’s a curious idea and it’s one that is made stranger by the gorgeous cinematography and the poppy, jazz piano soundtrack (mostly Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The “In” Crowd”). These elements seem at odds with the tense plot that eventually unfolds.

Irrational Man is not Woody Allen’s best film but it’s certainly not his worst one either. It’s also not his most original idea but even when Allen is operating at the mid-pack he still manages to outshine many other directors. As it stands Irrational Man still manages to challenge the viewer and deliver something clever, offbeat and dark. It means Allen’s fans are bound to find something they will enjoy because at the end of the day, this film is quintessential Woody Allen.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Irrational Man opens in Australian cinemas on August 20.