Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Irrational Man

Joaquin Phoenix has been on fire lately, if you’ll pardon the pun. After he pulled our legs with mockumentary I’m Still Here in 2010 which claimed he was abandoning Hollywood to enter the world of hip-hop, Phoenix has given us some of the strongest performances of his career. Spike Jonze’s Her and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Inherent Vice excelled thanks to incredible work from Joaquin, and he quickly found himself as one of my favourite actors after that trio of performances alone. 

Out now on DVD comes dark comedy Irrational Man, the latest offering from the controversial Woody Allen. Phoenix is Abe Lucas, a tormented philosophy professor with a bad reputation stuck in a rut. Depressed about his life and the world around him, he struggles with an existential crisis and deep nihilism. But after befriending young student Jill (Emma Stone) and overhearing something in a diner while spending time with her, Abe discovers a way to inject new life into himself – committing murder. While Stone and Parker Posey put in great performances as the women in Abe’s life, the film belongs to Phoenix, who even gained 33 pounds for the role. Adding to his extremely impressive selection of recent performances, this man is quickly becoming one of the strongest actors in cinema. And still, with 3 nominations - not 1 Academy Award win to his name. Move over, DiCaprio. There’s another man being snubbed who is more deserving of accolades than you. 

This being a Woody Allen film, you know straight away that the film is all about character and dialogue – while the murder itself takes something of a back seat. As always, Allen writes the screenplay as well as directing the film, and his trademark wit is evident throughout with some of his best and most philosophical dialogue in a while. Following Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Match Point, Irrational Man continues to show a fascination with murder but, despite what you might’ve read, the film isn’t a retread of old ground. Irrational Man is right up there with Midnight in Paris as one of the best films Allen has given us in the last 10 years – so, quite fitting that it was Jack Rollins’ last production, the man who has produced old Woody’s films since the 70s and died in 2015 at the incredible age of 100.

Outside of the dialogue, the film is unmistakably Allen from the opening minute. After the trademark opening credits (white Windsor font on black background, you know how it is), the film opens with the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s jazzy The In Crowd, a piece which becomes a motif throughout the film. Jazz, Windsor font…That alone makes Irrational Man instantly recognisable as Allen’s 45th film. Cinematographer Darius Khondji lends the film a warm, summery feel which is only helped by the gorgeous Newport setting, and the jazzy soundtrack lends to this light feel which juxtaposes wonderfully with the dark theme of murder. Yes, this is as Woody as it gets – which will either be excellent news for you, or awful news. The film never outstays its welcome or drags, and at 90 minutes it isn’t exactly going to take up much of your time.

If this is your first experience with Woody, his style might be lost on you. While it certainly isn’t completely inaccessible to the average viewer, Woody is arguably an auteur with a rather unique style. The comedy isn’t laugh-out-loud, the thrills aren’t edge of your seat, the film isn’t as intense as you might imagine for a story of murder. It’s all rather mundane and real in a way that could bore the uninitiated to Woody. But if you’ve got your thinking cap on, or are a fan of Woody’s, then you’ll enjoy Irrational Man. I know I did. It’s certainly a return to form after Magic in the Moonlight and the vastly overrated Blue Jasmine, anyway.

Irrational Man is Woody’s best in years, and with another impressive performance from Joaquin Phoenix, a great jazz soundtrack and a cracking script; there is a lot to like here. Recommended.

Irrational Man walks away with a strong 4/5.


Sam Love

Irrational Man at CeX

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