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Thread: IRRATIONAL MAN (Woody Allen 2015)

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    IRRATIONAL MAN (Woody Allen 2015)

    WOODY ALLEN: IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)


    JOAQUIN PHOENIX AND EMMA STONE IN IRRATIONAL MAN

    In Woody Allen's latest movie 'Irrational Man' a tippling, depressed philosophy teacher finds his sex life and his general mood improve when he commits murder.

    Woody Allen's new movie is like a play, or even more, like a short story -- or maybe just a concept. Things are somewhat filmsily worked out. There is a theme here that could could make a good whodunit. Patricia Highsmith gave it haunting, compulsive form in Strangers on a Train, which Hitchcock turned into a masterpiece of atmosphere and suspense. Allen's working out of a similar idea is more careless, the result relatively forgettable entertainment, a pastime to while away ninety minutes. The film is also marred initially by its wealth of telling and paucity of showing, a flaw from which it really only recovers in the final reel.

    If listing sketchy elements, begin with Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who arrives at Braylin, a small college in Newport, Rhode Island to teach philosophy. The telling without showing apply to Abe's supposed brilliance and charisma, which we never see. What we hear him say in class about Kant, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre, isn't very impressive. But anyway, Abe arrives with a reputation as a wild card, given to dramatic utterances about existentialism or the moral imperative and then debunking them all as "bullshit" that have no use in actual life. Women on campus nonetheless are titillated by his presence, it seems, or at least two of them are. Rita (Parker Posey), an unhappily married chemistry teacher, throws herself at Abe. He can't perform: he hasn't killed yet, or even thought of doing so. He spends much time sipping single malt scotch from a small silver flask, and displaying his ballooning gut.

    The idea comes to him when he's with his adoring, totally naive student, Jill (Emma Stone), daughter of two of the colleges' music teachers, with whom he spends most of his time, but platonically. At a town eatery they overhear a woman talking about a mean judge whose collusion with a lawyer will cause her daughter to lose custody of her children. Abe hits on the idea of offing the judge as an existentialist "gratuitous act" that will put a bad man out of the way and at the same time redefine him outside the world of academic "bullshit." Abe has told Jill that Dostoevsky "got it right." Woody must think so, since this is the third time he has replayed the action of Crime and Punishment’s Rodion Raskolnikov, with the previous ones being in Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra's Dream.

    Those three are better than this. But once the mere talk is finally out of the way and Abe gets up to committing his murder the movie is inevitably enmeshed in action that's amusing and piquant. He has not let either Rita or Jill in on his action and must strain to hide it from them, even as he gets more physically involved with Jill and Jill pushes away Roy (Jamie Blackley), her nice young man who is very in love with her, but has already been turned off for some time by her obsessive chatter about her prof. (Emma Stone pushed away a another young man in favor of the much older Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight; but the May-December romance theme fortunately is relatively downplayed here.)

    When Jill discovers Abe's guilt, Emma Stone acts out her anguish so intensively it sets off the wan emotional tone of most of the rest of the film, including Abe's existential gloom, never forcefully conveyed by Phoenix. Her intensity is matched only by the final action scene, where the physical business is as violent and jaw-dropping as anything the director has previously staged. Things end dramatically with a surprise and a bit of turnabout.

    While this isn't vintage Woody Allen -- his ability to write snappy dialogue may be failing -- it is nonetheless amusing to contemplate a lightweight version of Dostoevsky -- with a different outcome than Woody's previous treatments of it -- and see a philo prof create his own existentialist experiment and, for a while, enjoy it. The mise-en-scene -- the pastoral New England town scenes and costumes and landscapes, while pretty and again handsomely photographed by cinematographer Dharius Khondji, are less elaborate and delightful this time than the Mediterranean ones, including beautiful vintage cars and music hall chinoiserie, in Woody's last, Magic in the Moonlight. But who's to say that one was less flimsy? For music, despite some keyboard music Bach mime-played by Stone, Ramsey Lewis' already repetitions "In Crowd" becomes very insistent.

    Irrational Man, 96 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015 out of competition (already bought by Sony PIctures Classics) and opened theatrically in the US 17 July 2015; UK, 11 September. The French must wait till 14 October. Opened Landmark Theaters San Francisco, Albany, 31 July 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-01-2015 at 10:40 AM.

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