Middling effort from Woody Allen, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone
Looking at Woody Allen’s recent record, he’s alternated precisely between critical hits and misses: Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine were excellent; To Rome with Love and last year’s insipid Magic in the Moonlight were pretty hideous. Using that rationale, his latest should fall into the former category. If only it were that simple.
Returning him to territory he’s previously – and more successfully – explored in Crimes and Misdemeanours and Match Point, Allen’s film is a campus tale set in a leafy Rhode Island college. Joaquin Phoenix plays the film’s primary narrator, Abe Lucas, an unmarried, middle-aged and maudlin philosophy professor who's struggling to control his drinking habit.
He still has a way with the ladies though, sleeping with Parker Posey’s married chemistry lecturer Rita, despite an impotence issue, and attracting the attention of young student Jill (Emma Stone), but depression clouds his judgement. Until, that is, he and Jill overhear a conversation about a corrupt judge, inspiring Abe to take direct action – and poison him.
Successfully pulling off the murder, Abe is revitalised by his moral crusade though, as devotees of Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol will know, there’s no such thing as the perfect crime. Intellectually, Allen has conjured up one of his more interesting plots, wrestling with the notion of theory versus practice; but in execution, the film never quite gels.
Coming across like a pot-bellied cousin to his stoner in Inherent Vice, Phoenix doesn’t seem entirely comfortable here, while Stone and a wayward Posey are left to grapple with flimsy characters. Rather like the incessant and grating use of ‘The "In" Crowd’ by the Ramsey Lewis Trio on the soundtrack, too much of the film feels one-note – like a cursory sketch rather than a developed idea. After Allen's good / bad films of late, file this one under indifferent.
General release from Fri 11 Sep.