Woody Allen has won four Academy Awards, along with the seven bestowed on actors in his films. His 46th film as a director is a comedy about a tormented, disillusioned philosophy professor who muses about “morality, choice and the aesthetics of life, randomness and murder.” When Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives at Rhode Island’s (fictional) Braylin College, his charismatic reputation precedes him – at least rumors about his alcoholism and legendary penchant for young women. Which poses an enticing challenge for frustrated faculty colleague, Rita Richards (Parker Posey), and eager philosophy student, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). Read on…
Addressing his Ethical Strategies class, Abe casually informs them that “much of philosophy is verbal masturbation.” While we think we know right from wrong, circumstances can change things. Later, at an off-campus party, he horrifies onlookers by playing an impromptu game of Russian roulette.
Nihilistic Abe suffers from psychological depression, a bleak condition which is immediately – and remarkably – relieved after he and Jill eavesdrop on a cafe conversation in which a distraught mother recounts how she’s about to lose custody of her children because her estranged ex-husband is in cahoots with a corrupt judge.
His existential imagination working overtime, Abe fantasizes about what a better world this would be if this sleazy judge was dead. Taking that one step further, Abe decides to be the one to kill him and begins to plot how to commit the perfect crime.
Still memorable as Allen’s muse in “Magic in the Moonlight,” lithe, lovely Emma Stone is captivating as Abe’s bright, if besotted disciple – in creepy counter-point with paunchy Joaquin Phoenix’s brooding, cold-blooded determination.
Woody Allen’s writing is clever and his direction precise – enhanced by the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s jazz-infused soundtrack, conflicting narratives and cinematographer Darius Khondji’s titillating visuals. As for placement in Allen’s pantheon, “Irrational Man” most closely resembles “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Match Point.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Irrational Man” is an intriguing 8, a mischievous morality tale that’s infused with dark humor.