Rated R

96 minutes

Released July 17

Irrational Man begins in classic Woody Allen-style as an intensely cerebral study of a philosophy professor haunted by his own obsessive thoughts. Soon, as is the pattern in Allen’s films, other people become entangled in the man’s web of manic-depressive musings. He is, after all, a professor at an elite New England college, a man of considerable power.

Don’t be caught falling asleep in the first few minutes, as may sometimes be the case for viewers of this director’s movies. Soon enough this story will blossom into a glorious “whodunit” which parallels the philosophical meanderings of our protagonist’s mind, complete with emotional highs and lows, comedic reveals and ironic twists. Allen is not afraid to start his work slowly and let us sink into it before we reach the first “hairpin turn” of events. For all his deep thinking, our professor’s web of rationalizations leads him to build a morass of actions spiraling out of control. When he finally steps outside his mind and takes action, a chain reaction of events takes on a life of its own outside of his existential will.

Allen is one of the best directors in the business at choosing perfect actors, aided in no small part by the efforts of casting directors Juliette Taylor and Patricia Kerrigan DeCerto, who have worked with him repeatedly. Here, flawless understated performances are created by Joaquin Phoenix as the professor and Emma Stone as his precocious and inquisitive student. Parker Posey perfectly embodies the repressed urges of a conservative professor/society wife. Jamie Blackley is wonderfully bland as the “good guy” boyfriend. Sophie Van Hasselberg, who has only one previous film on her resume, shines as the innocent na√Øve coed who is pivotal to the action.

The camera of Darius Khondji, who has also worked with Allen before, records a study of human impetus written in the actors’ faces as they move seamlessly within the upscale environment around Newport and Providence, Rhode Island. Art director Carl Sprague, a veteran of Wes Anderson’s painstakingly detailed and imaginative sets, uses here the classic old wood-paneled rooms of New England as suitably dark and confining incubators for the dark thoughts and repressed emotions that inhabit these characters.

Costume designer Suzy Benzinger has dressed Emma Stone in the casual fabrics and designs of a college student, yet as the scope of her emotional disposition shifts in the story, so does the language of her clothing. The music, predominantly a jazz version of “The In Crowd,” plays over and over, as if stalking the characters’ thoughts.

Luckily for us, our director has earned his badge as a celebrity. Tarnished or not, this badge allows him carte blanche to do whatever he wants artistically. It is no coincidence I’m sure that the professor’s dark musings seem as if they are generated straight from the mind of Woody Allen. I’m sure the writer/director has repeatedly asked himself all the questions put forth in this gem of a film.

Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica.

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