Woody Allen is in a virulent mood, and it suits him. This inspired piece of misanthropy is a London-set dissection of two unhappily married couples: Alfie (Hopkins) has taken up with call girl Charmaine (the spectacular Punch); his wife, Helena (Jones), is drowning her sorrows in psychic malarkey; their daughter, Sally (Watts), is smitten with her boss (Banderas); and her schlub husband, Roy (Brolin), is tempted by a new, alluring neighbour (Pinto).

Allen even reprises the transcendent final shot of Chaplin’s City Lights — and his own Purple Rose of Cairo — so that he can further twist the knife on his characters’s delusions.

Why does the film feel so essential? Perhaps because of that tall, dark stranger - whom Roy identifies in a tossed-off aside - lurking just outside the frame. It isn’t the first time death has figured in an Allen movie, but the way he grapples with it here (leaving each character at a moment of irresolution comparable to staring down the man with the scythe) is much more potent and direct. This love letter to the Reaper and his unknowable timetable is a bracing addition to an erratic, yet indispensable oeuvre.

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York