Feature: Irrational Man or Woody Allen’s Avengers

There are few directors working today that are as prolific as Woody Allen. Irrational Man, which is released in Irish cinemas today, marks the Bronx born director’s 46th feature. With such a prodigious output the quality can vary wildly, but a new Allen is always worth seeking out, as even his lesser works have something to offer. Allen’s films have grossed more than $575 million in the US, with an average of $14 million per film. That’s an impressive haul given the personal nature of most of his films.

A lot of Allen’s output can roughly be segregated into two categories: “Morality Stories” and “Middle-Age Protagonist Contemplating Life and Love”. Irrational Man straddles these two, prompting our Podcast partner Darren Mooney to call it Woody Allen’s Avengers. That got me thinking about these films, and wondering which ones slot where?

“Morality Stories”

Match Point

The film sees Jonathan Rhys Meyers play a retired tennis professional who has married into a wealthy family, and who manages to completely undermine his comfy position by embarking on an affair with his brother-in-law’s girlfriend. This leads to inevitable complications that culminate in Meyers stage two murders and get away scot-free. The film acts as a twist on   Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with Meyers’ character identifying with the book’s anti-hero Raskolnikov, but one-upping him by feeling less guilt, and by evading capture.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

As with Match Point, Crimes and Misdemeanors deals with infidelity. Martin Landau plays Judah Rosenthal, a successful ophthalmologist, who is cheating on his wife with a flight attendant. When she threatens to spill the details unless he leaves his wife Judah hires a hitman to kill her. Like Match Point the film’s morality is borrowed from Crime and Punishment, as Judah struggles with the weight of his misdeed. However it does come to a very different conclusion!

Cassandra’s Dream

The film follows brothers Terry and Ian, played by Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, who get in deep with a gambling addiction and property investments respectively, and seek help from a wealthy uncle. This help comes with a caveat…they must murder their uncle’s former business partner who plans to testify against him. The third of Allen’s films to use Crime and Punishment as a basis this one follows the resolution of the novel the most closely.

“Middle-Age Protagonist Contemplating Life and Love”


A deeply personal film Manhattan sees Allen play a twice-divorced 42-year-old comedy writer who falls in love with his best friend’s mistress. Add to that the fact that he is dating a 17 year old girl, and you have the makings of a most intriguing film.  Allen’s character is an unlikeable, unsympathetic sod, who tries to do the right thing, but is rarely selfless enough to go through with it. It’s a film full of great performances and acts as a love letter to New York, and is essential watching for all fans of film.

Annie Hall

This 1977 drama sees Allen play a comedian (what else?) to figure out the reasons for the failure of his relationship with the titular character. This is the ultimate Allen meditating on love and the rationality of love. It’s a film that manages to be funny and poignant, and acts as a time capsule for New York in 1970s.

Midnight in Paris

This is one of Allen’s stranger films. Set in Paris, it sees a screenwriter who travels back in time each night at midnight forced to confront the shortcomings of his relationship with his fiancée. Set in several time periods this is a gorgeous looking film, and is perhaps Owen Wilson’s strongest performance. It is a film that captures the magic of movies.

Blue Jasmine

The film is the story of a rich Manhattan socialite who falls into hard times and has to move in to her sister’s apartment in San Francisco. Cate Blanchett adopts the Allen persona in this unacknowledged take on Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The film is hung on her performance and she more than carries the burden. It’s a fascinating tragic comic tale.

The newest Woody Allen, Irrational Man, is out in Irish cinemas today, September 11th. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a tormented philosophy professor  considers murdering a corrupt judge to find meaning in his life, with support from , Emma Stone, Parker Posey, and Joe Stapleton.