MATCH POINT (2005)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton, Layke Anderson, Alexander Armstrong, Morne Botes, Ewen Bremner, Scott Hanay, Rose Keegan, Paul Keye, Eddie Marsan, James Nesbitt, Steve Pemberton, Rupert Penry-Jones, Miranda Raison, Colin Salmon, Zoe Telford and Margaret Tyzack.
Screenplay by Woody Allen.
Directed by Woody Allen.
Distributed by Dreamworks Pictures. 124 minutes. Rated R.
It’s become much too easy to not take Woody Allen seriously. After all, it has been about a decade since his last truly memorable film (the flawed-but-fascinating Mighty Aphrodite) and over fifteen years since his last acknowledged masterpiece (the nearly perfect morality play Crimes and Misdemeanors – arguably his best film ever.)
However, now, finally, those two statements can be made in the past tense. Match Point is a reminder of what a vital and brilliant artist Allen can be. It is all the more fascinating because it is so different from what we have come to expect from the poet laureate of New York social circles.
Not that the movie is wholly unique to Allen. In fact Match Point is somewhat parallel to Crimes and Misdemeanors if you look strictly at the plotline (a man who has married into money becomes involved in an affair with an unstable woman and has to deal with it) and the themes (whether good is always rewarded and evil is always punished).
Now for those of you who miss the early, funnier Woody, I’ve got to warn you, Match Point is no comedy. It has some very clever jokes strewn about – as all good Allen dramas do – but this is a deadly serious piece of filmmaking.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Chris Wilton, a former tennis professional who takes a job teaching the game to rich amateurs in London. He gets seduced by the upper crust in the form of Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a charming heir with a devil-may-care attitude. Chris starts dating and eventually marries his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). However, he is drawn to Tom’s fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a struggling actress from the States.
Nola is striking and men are drawn to her, but she knows her limitations. “I’m not beautiful, I’m sexy,” she drunkenly acknowledges to Chris early on. “Men seem to think I would be something special.” When he asks pointedly if she is, she chuckles, “No one has ever asked for their money back.” Nola also knows she is a mediocre actress and she could be just as happy as a rich wife. Any kind of success would make her content, just so long as she doesn’t have to go home to Boulder, Colorado as a failure.
They both know it is a wrong move, but Chris and Nola fall into a passionate affair. However, Chris starts to rethink things when Nola becomes clingy. Suddenly he must decide between the passion he feels for Nola and the comfort he feels with Chloe. Also, he must take in consideration how quickly he has become accustomed to the trappings of wealth.
Match Point is, at its core, a treatise on the fickleness of fate. None of the people in it are really good people – even the quote-unquote victims are selfish users – but the difference between success and failure is the flip of a coin. Or the bounce of a ball off a net. Or it is birthright. For the people on the outside looking in, it is a profitable marriage.
Allen has returned to cynicism about human behavior and it makes this film coil like a snake. Whether a character deserves his or her happy or tragic ending are completely beside the point. As Chris says, it really is better to be lucky than it is to be good. (12/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 9, 2005.