The latest from director Woody Allen (Magic in the Moonlight, Blue Jasmine) is an existential “perfect murder” thriller, which manages to retain a beguiling lightness of touch despite being peppered with references to Dostoevsky, Heidegger, Kant, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
The story unfolds from the perspectives of two duelling narrators, nihilistic philosophy professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, The Immigrant) and effervescent young college student Jill (Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight, Birdman). Steeped in self-doubt and a profound sense of futility, Abe is “blocked” both professionally and personally, but he finds new inspiration when he meets Jill. Despite the fact that both of them are involved with other people, professor and student begin a platonic but sexually charged friendship, taking long walks while discussing life’s truths. When the would-be lovers accidentally overhear a conversation in which a distraught mother expresses her fear that she will lose custody of her child because of a corrupt judge, Abe is struck by the idea that killing the judge is the “meaningful act” he’s been searching for — a true humanitarian gesture that would contribute more to society than his philosophical platitudes ever could.
A playful, darkly funny exploration of philosophy and morality that recalls such previous Allen classics as Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man balances its weighty considerations of situational ethics with witty dialogue, an intoxicating jazz score, and the beautiful, sun-dappled cinematography of Darius Khondji. At once intelligent, romantic and suspenseful, this is Woody Allen at his best.