My Woody Allen viewing these days seems to mostly be on the small screen, due to the fairly limited releases his films get, certainly in Australia. Woody works well on DVD, as his films usually involve close-knit, almost theatrical, settings and rarely rely on vast panoramas. In fact I think, had he been born in the UK instead of the US, he would be a latter-day Dennis Potter, making work exclusively for the goggle-box.
Irrational Man had its cinema release in July, and is now available on home release. Sadly, just prior to release, Jack Rollins, long-time Allen producer, passed away.
Allen returns to his familiar and well-worn (almost too worn, I would say) themes. An emotionally unavailable, self-destructive philosophy professor is opened up by one of his students (typically smart, cute and uncomplicated) and goes on to find a new lease of life by committing what he thinks is the perfect, morally justifiable, murder. It could almost be a homage or parody film, made by an admiring young director.
Joaquin Phoenix does a splendid job in the role of Abe Lucas, yet delivers the voice-overs in Allen’s own style, rather than the style of the character. I found this jarring. Emma Stone is charming as the jail-bait love-interest, Jill, and Parker Posey gives some oomph! to the role of Rita, Lucas’s part-time lover.
The themes are interesting enough but, as I alluded earlier, I don’t feel that Allen has moved on in his understanding of free-will, morality and ethics. What struck me most was the lack of psychological truth in the work. This left Phoenix and Stone not a great deal of room for emotive characterisation, although Posey had some more authentic scenes.
I am a long-time Allen aficionado. I remain loyal and admiring, and I can’t say this isn’t an enjoyable, pleasantly done piece of film-making. Yet it is neither dark enough to be a serious piece, nor light enough to be a black comedy, ultimately leaving one wondering what the point of it is.
If the point is, however, to spend an evening watching some good filmmaking and some solid acting, then grab this and make up your own mind.
Allen at his worst (which this isn’t!) is still worlds ahead of some directors at their best.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 7
Irrational Man is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.