Irrational Man

★★★
Another return to form for Woody Allen.
Movie Review #1,000

irrational_man
Sony Pictures Classics
Drama, Mystery
1 hour, 35 minutes
Rated R (some language and sexual content)
Released August 7, 2015
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey

“I couldn’t remember the reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing.” – Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas

“Irrational Man” isn’t the first Woody Allen film to deal with an affair, or a murder, or both in the same film. (And as if to acknowledge its similarity to “Match Point” in this sense, Allen uses a tennis table as a plot device during the movie’s most pivotal scene.) None of this feels strikingly unoriginal, though. Allen’s newest film stands, if for nothing else, to remind us once again that every one of his films is the same yet completely different from the previous.

“Irrational Man” is largely a mystery drama, but some of Allen’s signature wry sense of humor leaks in now and then. More often than not, the result is the clever, sometimes biting dialogue that we’re used to from this director. The script isn’t perfect, though. “Irrational Man” seems to feature two separate plots, and is marred by a troubling balance of the two. On one hand, it’s a thin character study, and on the other hand, it’s a psychologically charged murder mystery.

Still, this is a very interesting film, and largely due to the understated perspective Allen furnishes it with. Any other director would title the film “Deranged Man”, but Allen sympathizes enough to call it “Irrational Man”. Allen’s newest protagonist is Abe Lucas (compellingly played by Joaquin Phoenix), a depressed writer struggling for inspiration and a philosophy professor who has become the subject of many rumors and speculations around the campus. He has decided to murder a judge, because it might be a favor for every man and woman who despised him, and on top of that, it’ll give his life meaning, so he thinks.

What drives the tension (and to a lesser extent, the humor) is the pervading irony that Jill (Emma Stone), the one individual Phoenix sees more than his own wife, has no idea about his desire to kill the judge, even after he’s done the deed. Phoenix and Stone offer alternating narrations for the film, which allows the film to play out like a very compelling mystery novel. Initially, Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone seem a sparsely convincing pair. They start off the film with a teacher-and-student relationship. They’re both very fond of each other even at this point, but it’s not until they begin having an affair (of which his spouse and her boyfriend are both aware) that their onscreen chemistry excels wonderfully.

As with many Woody Allen movies, “Irrational Man” is also quite aesthetically pleasing. The jazzy piano score has long been a staple to Woody Allen movies, and it works rather nicely here to offer the film a carefree vibe. (Given the lighthearted mood the music helps establish for the film, I would have appreciated the inclusion of this jazz score during the opening titles, rather than a downtrodden silence.) The film is only more palatable thanks to the cinematography. Ever since Woody Allen recruited Darius Khondji for “Midnight in Paris”, he has transformed the image of his director’s films into visual poetry.

“Irrational Man” keeps growing more and more enjoyable until it reaches its apex: a brilliant twist during the last fifteen minutes. It’s rather unfortunate, therefore, that this unexpected turn of events during the final third should lead to an utterly predictable finale. It’s supposed to feel both unsettling and ironic. All I really felt, however, was disappointment. The film was crafted by none other than the most respected man in the American filmmaking business. With this in mind, he could have come up with a shocking and overwhelmingly satisfying conclusion. I guess he just wanted to be finished after that great twist.

As a closing note, I would like to thank anyone and everyone who helped and inspired me to come this far with writing movie reviews.  You range from parents, to grandparents, to aunts, to uncles, to cousins, to friends, to co-workers, to acquaintances, to customers, to teachers, to readers, to contributors, to fellow bloggers, and beyond.  If that isn’t a lot of people, then I don’t know what is.

This isn’t my personal 1,000th review (Red Stewart contributed 50 reviews between last June and this February, making this my personal 950th), but it’s nevertheless the 1,000th review this blog has seen since I launched it just over four years ago—which blows my mind.

With that said, Cinemaniac Reviews has truly changed my life.  I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s very true.  Because of this blog, I am a proud member of the American Film Institute.  Because of this blog, I have made a commitment to visiting a movie theatre every time I travel to somewhere else in the country.  (I’d highly recommend the Regal Mayfaire in Wilmington, NC, simply because its staff is by far the nicest and friendliest staff I have ever found in a movie theatre.)  Because of this blog, I work at the greatest movie theatre ever, making every effort to give every customer the greatest experience one could possibly have at the movies, because even if the movie sucks, that’s no reason to not come back for a better movie.

Because of this blog, I no longer plan to pursue a career as an algebra teacher when I graduate high school.  That was my goal before I started Cinemaniac Reviews.  Now I know for sure that I’m going to write movie reviews as a profession.  (I don’t wish to fall below the poverty line, so yes, I’ll have a second job, as well.  But movie reviews will always be my one passion and my main focus.)

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4 thoughts on “Irrational Man

  1. Enjoyed your personal thoughts at the end there. When you visited San Francisco, did you see any movies? The Sundance Kabuki is worth visiting. It has reserved seating and they serve food/alcohol in the theater.

    • I wish I’d visited the Kabuki, I think it was on several lists of must-visit theaters around the world when I was looking online. I started the tradition pretty recently, actually. I went to the Ward theater when my family and I went to Hawaii this past December. When I got back to the hotel, I realized that I’d also gone to the E Street in DC the last time is traveled, so I thought, “Why don’t I just go to the movies every time I travel?”

      Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Cinemaniac — congratulations for reaching the #1000 benchmark!
    And thanks for the compliments for your family. We are proud to be two of your grandparents.
    And congratulations on choosing a college and a career simultaneously.
    I too always like to hear the smooth and dreamy Piano music in Woody’s films.
    Can’t wait to see this cinema with your grandmother.
    Dr. Ed

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