I am an unapologetic Woody Allen fan. I love his style of writing, love his directing sensibilities, and love his sense of humor. I love that he understands how to let his characters live within his stories. He is a true filmmaking master. Like any great filmmaker, he has had his missteps, but the vast majority of his work is flat out brilliant. His latest film, Irrational Man, out now, is a return to the thriller genre he visited in films like Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) is a womanizer, an alcoholic, a nihilist and depressed. He has just taken a new position as a philosophy professor at a small town campus near Newport, Rhode Island. He soon meets Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), a student in his class who soon becomes a good friend even though she may be looking for more. Abe gets an idea in his head that if he murders a local morally corrupt judge, the world will be a better place. His nihilism turns to idealism and Abe finds himself enjoying life more just with the prospect of the murder in his mind. But will he go through with it and will it change the world in the ways he hopes?
While a few of Allen’s recent films have failed to capture me in the ways of some of his classics, Irrational Man came much closer than some. Phoenix is excellent in a role that seems to fit perfectly with the roles he has been choosing over the past few years. He seems attracted to down and outers, characters with deep flaws and very dark views on life. Allen brings out the optimism in him though and gives the character a very interesting arc throughout the film. Emma Stone, as always, is captivating. She never fails to warm every role with a genuine affability and authenticity that has made her one of the most loved actors in Hollywood. The story starts out as a character drama but escalates into a very interesting examination of the boundaries of society. Irrational Man is a wonderful return to form for Allen thrillers much in the way Midnight in Paris was for his whimsical romantic films. Highly recommended.