Irrational Man

I couldn’t remember a reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing.

Year Released : 2015irrational-man-poster
Director : Woody Allen
Cast : Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey

After returning from holiday and struggling to find the time to watch films at home, I have decided to do something that I have only done twice before and that is to review a film that is still out at the cinema. I had decided to go and watch Irrational Man when I got back from the aforementioned holiday, only to find when I got home that the cinema I work at was going to stop showing it after less than a week, six days to be more precise.

Based on this I had to go and watch it and due to the lack of people in the screen (I was one of five), the low amount of votes on IMDB and various other factors, I just had to review it.

Just to clarify, don’t expect me to review many films that are released at the cinema because it is part of my contract to not talk negatively about films that are being shown whilst at least one Odeon in the UK is showing it, and most films I watch these days that are of a smaller nature are very poor.

Plot

Everyone at a New England university is excited when it is confirmed that Abe Lucas (Phoenix), an acclaimed philosophy professor, will be joining the faculty. Lucas has a reputation for influential and brilliant behaviour, albeit with an exceptionally erratic side. When Abe arrives, everyone is surprised by his morbid outlook on life and his belief that everything is ultimately futile. Despite his unusual behaviour, Professor Rita Richards (Posey) falls for him and the two start an affair.

Lucas is quickly impressed by the unusual thinking of Jill (Stone), a student in one of his classes. The two become friends and she invites him to a party, at which he decides to show a group of students the structure of chance by doing a one-man game of Russian Roulette. Whilst dining out with Jill, the two overhear a conversation between a woman and her friends in which she is reflecting on the realistic chance of losing her kids just to the judge in her custody case being friends with her ex-husband, and how he is constantly encouraging her to make costly appeals, only to reject them. Abe decides that this is the turning point in his life and decides to kill the judge.

Abe steals cyanide from the university’s labs and successfully switches out the judge’s drink, and he dies quickly. Weeks follow and the police struggle to nail down any leads due to there being no obvious connections between Abe and the judge, but Rita comes up with a theory that Abe did indeed kill the judge and that he was the only one capable of doing so. Jill initially dismisses the theory, but then as evidence comes to light she realises that it all makes sense, and she decides to confront Abe, but how will he react?

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So was it worth more than a 6 day run at the cinema?

Yes, definitely so. It’s remarkably fresh and unique to anything that I have seen in the recent past on screen, and I just didn’t see the ending coming at all.

The pacing of the film is perfect and it’s a very well executed slow build. At not one point was there a seeming deus-ex machina, everything seemed natural and free flowing, and even the convenience of overhearing the conversation that would eventually lead to the judge’s death doesn’t feel like it’s been shoved in there to give Abe meaning.

I didn’t know what to expect going into the screen as I have never seen a Woody Allen film and I feel that this is the best formula for going to watch a film at the cinema. I went to watch “Legend” before going on holiday and didn’t particularly enjoy it, probably because I went in with expectations too high, but because my expectation levels were non-existent going to “Irrational Man”, it meant that I could just sit back and enjoy the film, and that I did.

It spoke to me on so many different levels and at many times felt like a reflection of my life. I feel nihilistic on a regular basis and feel a great sense of futility when it comes to existence, but then the next day I can be one of the happiest people that you could ever meet, and in that way I related to the character of Abe on a personal level. Abe even reflects that it must be wonderful to be religious because at least you have some reason for believing that your life actually means something for longer than just the tiniest of tiny percentages of eternity. For me that is a perfect summary of why some people turn to religion and in many ways I do envy those that choose that path.

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As I mentioned above, I connected with the character of Abe on a personal level and it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to say that, and part of the reason for this connection was the near perfect portrayal by Phoenix, the standout member of the cast.

It occurred to me midway through the film that this is only the second time I’ve ever watched a film starring Joaquin Phoenix at the cinema (the other being Gladiator) and there are many reasons for this, mainly because his self-imposed exile from Hollywood, and his preference for independent films, which this very much falls in the category of. The character of Abe is both wonderfully simplistic and unbelievably complex, and without giving away too much at the end.

The scene in which he kills the judge is done perfectly as you never actually see the judge drink the poisoned orange juice, your attention is focused on the reactions of Abe as he looks excited, in disbelief that he has actually done it and terrified at the same time. The confliction on his face is wonderfully reflective of the nature of the crime.

Emma Stone is also wonderful as Jill and she shows a great range of emotions in the scene in which she confronts Abe about the killing the judge. She perfectly captures the look of someone who is trying to forgive something that she loves for doing something unimaginable, and it’s yet another example of why Stone is becoming one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses.

However, despite all of the above, the thing that won me completely over and turned it from a film that I saw as pretty good into an excellent movie is the ending. Obviously I’m not going to reveal what the ending is but it took me completely by surprise, and rather unusually, despite coming out of nowhere it felt natural. It’s a very natural conclusion and one that you feel is perfect for the story. Normally if an ending comes out of nowhere, not having previously been hinted at, I will rant and rave about it, but not in this case. It made a pretty good film very memorable.

My only criticism of the film is the exceptionally poorly written character of Roy. Roy is Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the film and whilst he is barely in the film (which makes the choice to include Jamie Blackley as a main star of the film a bit bizarre), he is exactly the same in every scene. He is just horrendously one dimensional and there was no real need for him to be in the film at all.

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Summary

Not only did I love this film, it is a contender for my “Top 10” films of the year that will be coming out in December.

I loved pretty much everything about this film and no-one gives a poor performance. It is sapprovedlightly unusual that Jamie Blackley is advertised as one of the four main stars and yet he is barely on screen, but other than that I can’t think of a flaw with the film and it is wonderfully made.

If you ever get the chance to watch it then I would seriously recommend it.

 

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