Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton
R (For some sexuality)
Filmmaker Woody Allen reinvents himself with Match Point , the story of a poor tennis pro who turns his life around after meeting the daughter of a wealthy business man and her brother’s fiancee.
Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a successful tennis star. He quit the circuit in order to teach hoping he could improve his life knowing he could never have the success he wants as a professional tennis player. After taking on a job as a tennis instructor, he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) who is charmed by the young Wilton. After a time, Chris is introduced to Tom’s sister Chloe who does her best to let Chris know she’s interested.
Just as his life is beginning to look like it will finally turn around, Chris becomes obsessed with Tom’s fiance Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). Before he knows what’s hit him, he’s married to Chloe and cheating on her with Nola. It may be stressful to juggle to women, but Chris’ life couldn’t be better; however, the lives of the women around him are not. Chloe wants to have a child but can’t seem to get pregnant. Nola plays hard to get but eventually decides that she wants Chris all to herself.
It’s been a long time since Allen was this good. Bullets Over Broadway was the last film of his that was even remotely entertaining. Here, he deftly crafts a tale of love, deceit and the lengths one man will go to get what he wants. From the expert performances to the surprising outcome, Match Point is an engrossing experiment in romantic disengagement.
Even the title of the film is a delightful play on words. The match point in tennis is when the match winner hinges on the final stroke of a tight game. Allen explains this in the opening of the film as he describes a ball that hits the top of the net and for a moment, it’s purely luck that determines which side the ball will fall on, giving the game to one opponent or the other. This symbolism runs throughout the film as Chris faces one potential setback after another. Repeatedly, luck is on his side, but only when the match point arrives do we see what fate really has in store for the tennis pro.
Rhys-Meyers gives a very skilled performance. His Chris Wilton is at one time charming and at other times ruthless. You find yourself rooting for him and against him often at the same time. His role is a rich one and he plays it up perfectly. Likewise, Johansson turns in one of her best performances so far. Nola is a conniving and ruthless woman. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants but deep inside, she’s a vulnerable, lost American girl trapped in a culture of refinement and nuance. It’s an environment that her beauty can’t always control. With this and Lost in Translation , you could almost say she can do nothing wrong but then you remember that she was in The Island.
The film does suffer a great deal from the length of time it takes to get to the match point. Every frame is proficiently composed and it’s not difficult to understand why some scenes drag on the way that they do. However, it’s this feeling of sluggishness that prevents the film from besting Bullets as Allen’s late-career high point.
It’s been a long time since Allen has made a crowd-pleaser. Bullets is the last to come to mind. Many of his films have a feeling of inaccessibility to modern audiences simply because they are intellectual. Allen writes realistically. He uses the full range of human emotion and behavior to craft rich characters and stories that seem to jump off the front page of the newspaper. However, most audiences cannot relate to these kind of people. It’s the viewer’s disconnect from the characters that make Allen less palatable to the general public.
Match Point doesn’t stray much from the typical Allen characterizations but it may be a more accessible feature for theatergoers to enjoy. It’s a fantastic film that gives us faith that Allen still has a vast number of quality movies left in him.
December 24, 2005