Match Point

Woody Allen offers us his latest opus in Match Point. A tale at times foreboding, its purpose and tone remain veiled behind the conventions of another genre until a delicious plot twist reveals the true nature of the film.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Chris Wilton, a former professional tennis player who has realized he is not going to go far on the pro circuit of his chosen sport and so gives it up to become the local pro at a country club in London. There he befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a charming and elegant young man of wealth. They discover a shared interest in opera and as their friendship grows Chris starts seeing Tom’s sister Chloe, played by Emily Mortimer.

Before a serious relationship blooms between them, Chris meets Tom’s fianc©e during a party at the Hewett estate. Played by Scarlett Johansson, the American Nola Rice is an aspiring young actress who is very versatile in the game of tease and seduction. It is to Chris’ great dismay that he soon learns she has promised herself to another, her unspoken yet virtual invitation to Chris notwithstanding. As the story progresses, Chris dances the line between playful flirting and outright seduction even as his relationship with the sweet and affable Chloe grows more serious.

On the whole Match Point works, broadly accomplishing what it sets out to accomplish but with a number of slight problems along the way. A prologue introduces what will obviously be a theme in the film, and in one of the movie’s small missteps this theme is unnecessarily brought up again and underlined when perhaps it would have been better to let it go, or at least make it more subtle. As it is, it’s an obvious reminder that something bigger is coming, but we got the point the first time.

It seems to be a simple tale told by the director in a very simple and straightforward style, and Woody Allen makes a strength of the simplicity. It unfolds principally by means of very short scenes which do propel the story forward yet leave one longing for something to take its time and develop itself more carefully. While it is common to use short scenes of a few seconds to get us through some unremarkable yet necessary exposition, too much of Match Point seems to fly by with these brief clips.

There is some use of opera music at a time when it simply does not fit well in the moment. Perhaps the particular piece has some meaning that enhances our understanding if only we knew what it was, or perhaps it simply is a product of the movie’s opera motif. Whatever the reason, I would still opt for something else or, better yet no music at all. Like the zither in The Third Man, it does not ruin what it touches, but it does tarnish it. Mercifully, it does not permeate the entire film.

Also, there are a few moments closer to the end when we must suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit. I found myself thinking things that began with “But why don’t they just…” or “But wouldn’t they…” or even “Come on, that’s not going to…” For a film which presumes to handle itself with a strict realism, these small departures into incredulity cause some minor problems.

The dialogue, however, is elegant yet believable, and in general the actors do quite well with it. Brian Cox, playing the Hewett patriarch, is always good, and Matthew Goode’s succulent upper class British accent coats his every word in honey. Emily Mortimer is spot on as a sweet, endearing young woman who falls unreservedly in love with a man she assumes is faithful to her. The only let down, and not to a great degree, is the lovely Scarlett Johansson, whose delivery of her lines sounds discordantly off the cuff and perfunctory at times (although there are just as many moments when she truly comes through).

Despite the various flaws which mar the surface, underneath the movie’s structure is sound. It is well conceived and worth the wait to get through what increasingly seems to be a British Fatal Attraction without the kick. The movie’s world is well drawn, and Woody Allen weaves several elements together – for the most part – deftly. Just when the simple filming and mundane plotting threatens to bore us with too much of the ordinary, we are treated to a clever twist, and then another, and when all is said and done we see what the director was doing all along. It’s a very satisfying “Aha!” moment.

Woody Allen has given us a genre bender. We get first one genre, then another, and even touches of a third with a scene in which Chris Wilton confronts two women in his home at night. A disaster waiting to happen unless handled with care and ability, Woody Allen makes it work despite the small blemishes along the way.

The Upside:
Generally good acting, solid story telling and a nifty idea by director and screenwriter Woody Allen. The twists in the plot towards the end are themselves nearly good enough to carry the film.
The Downside:
There are various little flaws that continuously mar the project, such as some improbable occurrences later on, some acting which falls just a touch flat, a long series of short and unremarkable scenes which fill the space between the genuinely good ones, some odd choices in the sound track and a motif which is pointed out to us jut a bit too obviously.
On the Side:
Match Point, Woody Allen’s first film shot entirely in Britain, is his longest film at 124 minutes.

Making the Grade:
The Story: B
The Acting: B+
The Intangibles: C+
Overall: B-

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Technorati: Movie Review, Hollywood, Woody Allen, Drama, Entertainment, Film, Cinema