Woody Allen’s quest for the perfect crime continues

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Irrational Man
RPL Film Theatre
October 8-11
3.5 out of 5

Outside his mania for pairing older men (often himself) with comely starlets, Woody Allen has plenty of recurring themes. One of them is murder: specifically, the commission of perfect murders and the ramifications of such crime. In each case (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream) the motivation is self-interest and, whether the killer is jailed or not, the act itself becomes an intolerable burden.

But, what happens if the victim actually deserves getting snuffed? That’s the question tackled by Irrational Man, a different and darkly comedic take on the ethics of assassination.

Joaquin Phoenix is Abe, a depressed philosophy teacher who gets his groove back partly thanks to the attention of an attractive, smart student (Emma Stone), but mainly by fantasizing about murdering a corrupt magistrate. Abe comes to the conclusion it would be ethically acceptable to end the judge’s life, but by acting on an intellectual exercise, Abe becomes tainted and consumed by hubris.

The story (luminously shot by Darius Khondji) is complemented by some of the meatiest dialogue Woody Allen has come up with, mostly about moral relativism. Allen is so relaxed he even pokes fun at his tropes — like the aforementioned May-December couples and his fixation with Russian literature, cough Crime And Punishment cough. Even his elitist flourishes serve a purpose.

Phoenix and Stone are great in Irrational Man. Stone is intrinsically sympathetic and Phoenix nails the philosophy teacher look (with a slight gut for good measure). He’s one of the best Allen stand-ins, ever. Unfortunately, a very shrill Parker Posey and a bland Jamie Blackley bring the movie to a halt whenever they’re on screen, which is often. A rare casting mishap for Woody, who has earned dozens of golden statues for his actors.