Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Irrational Man review

As Woody Allen has insisted on continuing his 'one film a year policy', 2015 must bring a new effort from the renowned auteur. But just how good is it? So far critical reception has been mixed, but have they been looking at the film wrongly? Hit the jump to find out more...

I think that people judge this film on the basis of Woody Allen. Is that wrong? I think so. Just because a filmmaker has made some stellar pictures before, does not mean to say that we treat their later work harsher than we should. Every film should be judged on it's own merit. Nevertheless, we are victims of prejudice and circumstance, and, of course, this film a year policy is absolutely terrible! And thus, we come to Irrational Man. A film so dull (the UK critics would tell us), so uninspired (the UK critics would tell us), SO damn boring and meaningless (the UK critics would tell us) that it is not even worth your time. I'm going to tell you that that's a lie...

A fateful conversation....
Irrational Man, to my mind, is a thoughtful, provocative, funny, and all around entertaining movie. It's not perfect, sure, but it doesn't deserve the hate. The story is OK - Emma Stone is a university student who meets a new controversial lecturer, Joaquin Phoenix. This man has lost the will to live (we can tell by a particularly tense Russian roulette game played at a house party). Yet, by chance, the pair hears of a situation by which a prejudiced judge will make the wrong decision and destroy an innocent woman's life. Struck by this, Abe (Phoenix) begins to plot the Hitchcockian perfect crime - he's unconnected by all accounts to the victim. Suffice to say things get hairy.

I don't think Allen really got to grips of overcoming story cliches. I mean, Joaquin Phoenix plays the stereotypical 'radical' professor with serious problems, and Emma Stone plays the stereotypical college student that falls in love with the stereotypical college professor. But, oh well, it works for his story confines.

All the fun of the fair
What this provides is a vehicle for some Woody Allen philosophy. I have to admit, at times it's a bit ham-fisted. I noticed, myself being a student of Philosophy, that the concepts discussed (to university students) in the film, were in fact akin to concepts discussed to 13 and 14 year olds in secondary schools across the country. Is this a bit of a faux pas? I think so. Is Allen a bit naive? I think so, despite his reputation. The very fact that he has to name-drop a philosopher every 10 seconds proves this, but I don't think its much of a problem.
The concern of the film is very much existentialism. What keeps us ticking? Once Abe has made his decision, how does  he think about it? Is it moral to take a life in any circumstance? How much is a life worth? Is life tangible? It's all very stimulating. And it's accessible to almost anybody, so that's a bonus.

It has a nice bit of humor to it as well. I mean, the story is essentially a dark thriller (as in, really dark), but Allen finds room for more than a couple of really nice one liners (as well as visual metaphors). It's more a gentle humor, and not an uproarious laugh out loud riot. It's civil, and I like that. From the sound of things, I think the other members of the audience liked it too..... and the ending, oh, the ending. I can't spoil it, but it truly is fantastic! Funny, dark, satisfying, saddening, provocative, fulfilling and empty are just some of the ways I would describe it. It's just one of those films that you can think about for a long time afterwards.

A truly irrational man
The music is a bit of a controversial issue.... reviewers so far have had much to say about this. I mean, I can summarize all the music in a song title - 'The In Crowd'. Woody Allen has this (some would say annoying) habit of using the same song again and again throughout the film. This is used way too much. But it's bouncy, jovial and playful. On one level, it's totally wrong. The movie is dark and murky, not suited to this type of music. But on another level, it works perfectly, concocting a supremely offbeat moral tale that differentiates it from the rest. I think it sits between both. But most of the time it works. One things for sure though, if the music was dark and moody, this would be one hell of a different movie!

The performances are really quite good as well! Phoenix continues his run of great 2015 acting (Inherent Vice), with another difficult role that he laps up thoroughly (Phoenix fans will love this movie no matter what). And Stone, also as usual, provides a great performance (continuing from her incredible Birdman role). Apart from them, there are very few major characters, but it's fair to say that I never felt a wrongly pitched line, or an awkward twitch in the whole film.

To conclude, Irrational Man is a great film! But it's not perfect. Allen has created a cliched story with ham fisted philosophy references. Nevertheless, it's entertaining, filled with brilliant performances, stimulating, and rather funny. I think you'll enjoy it! Special recommendations go to those new to Woody Allen (the themes here are common in his work, so they would seem newer if you saw this first) or Phoenix lovers....

Irrational Man gets 4 stars!

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