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Joaquin Pheonix stars in 'Her'.

Joaquin Pheonix stars in 'Her'.

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Writer-director Spike Jonze is a man of fascinating contradictions.

On one hand, he is a co-creator of the Jackass TV series and films, which revel in bad taste humour.

On the other, he is the Oscar-nominated visionary responsible for the films ‘Being John Malkovich’, ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Where The Wild Things Are’.

In ‘Her’ Jonze elicits a tour-de-force central turn from Joaquin Phoenix and a sexy vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson as the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence,

Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a shy, introverted man who has been emotionally scarred by the impending divorce from his sweetheart (Rooney Mara).

Theodore channels his hopelessly romantic soul into his work at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, which creates heartfelt love letters for customers, who struggle to find the right words.

On the way home one day, he hears about new technology that claims to be “not just an operating system - it’s a consciousness”. Intrigued, Theodore signs up and he creates an OS with a female identity; Samantha (voiced by Johansson) is born.

At first, she takes care of his day-to-day tasks but gradually, Samantha coaxes Theodore out of his shell and encourages him to rake over the coals of his failed marriage.

Phoenix is extraordinary, performing in close-up without any other human presence for long periods.

Aching emotions are captured in every wrinkle and contour of his face, and he visibly lights up as the romance with Samantha becomes swoonfully serious.