. . . . . . Film Reviews

John Carrichner



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MATCH POINT
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Directed by Woody Allen

             In Woody Allen's film Stardust Memories, Sandy Bates, the character he plays in the film, says "I think any relationship is not based on either compromise or maturity or perfection or any of that. It's really based on luck. That's the key thing. People don't like to acknowledge that because it means a loss of control but you really have to be lucky." In Match Point Woody Allen extends his philosophy on the role luck plays not just in sexual relationships but in life itself. The first shot in Match Point is of a tennis ball hitting a net. Will it bounce forwards and count as a point for the person who has just hit the ball or will it bounce backwards and count as a point against him? Either way, at that moment, the ball in play is entirely out of the player's control. It is a matter of luck. Midway through Match Point Woody Allen's theory of luck and the role it plays in one's life is reinforced verbally by the film's male protagonist, Chris Wilton, played extremely well, by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Chris is a tennis pro who has just quit the professional tour. Hoping for some stability in his life, he takes a job as a teaching pro in a London country club.
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         While giving lessons at the country club Chris strikes up a friendship with Tom Hewett (played by Matthew Goode) one of his very wealthy students. After learning they share a fondness for opera, Tom invites Chris to join him and members of his family in their box in the opera house in Covent Garden. It is there that Chris meets Tom's sister Chloe (played by Emily Mortimer). Chloe, along with being part of a very wealthy family, is also beautiful, smart, compassionate, affectionate, generous, and is basically the answer to any man's prayers whether he's a praying man or not. She is immediately smitten with Chris and, in a short time, a relationship blossoms. Chris is taken in by the entire Hewett family, given a job in the family business and put on the fast track to marrying Chloe and having a successful career. His days struggling to get by as a tennis pro are quickly behind him. His ship has come in and his ship...is a luxury liner the size of the Queen Elizabeth. There seems to be only one problem, Tom's fiancee...Nola Rice (played by Scarlet Johansson). Nola is a struggling American actress come to London hoping to find work. Like Chris, Tom Hewett has taken her under his wing though not with nearly the same level of approval from the rest of the family with which Chris is received. Tom's acid tongued, alcoholic mother, Eleanor (played by Penelope Wilton) is especially inhospitable toward Nola. Nola and Chris meet over a brief game of ping pong at the Hewett estate and their sexual chemistry is immediately apparent. How will these two foundlings deal with their attraction to each other? Their attraction, like the tennis ball about to hit the net, seems entirely beyond their control.
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        Match Point is Woody Allen's first film shot entirely in England. I find it intriguing that he would choose England as the place to set what seems to be his version of Theodore Drieser's novel An American Tragedy. While watching Match Point, I was very much reminded of George Stevens's classic film version of An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun. In a way, Match Point is A Place in the Sun in reverse. In A Place in the Sun, George Eastman (played by Montgomery Clift) is trapped in a relationship with Alice Tripp, a lowly employee in his uncle's factory (played by Shelly Winters), but is desperately in love with Angela Vickers (played by Elizabeth Taylor) a girl from a very wealthy family who gradually doesn't seem quite so inaccessible as George becomes more and more successful in his uncle's business. In Match Point Chris Wilton, like George Eastman, is trapped in simultaneous relationships, one with a rich girl and one with a poor girl but unlike George Eastman his truly passionate feelings are for the poor girl. Both men are handsome, hard working, ambitious and eager to please on the surface but there is a dark psychological undercurrent obviously at work in both of them.
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         In a recent interview Woody Allen was asked about the "chemistry between Scarlet Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers." Allen responded by saying "What they have is not chemistry...It's physics!" He also described both of them as being "hot!" I personally never imagined I'd hear Woody Allen use the word hot in a kind of Paris Hilton context but Scarlet Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are...HOT!!! Their onscreen chemistry or physics or whatever you want to call it rivals that of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor's in A Place in the Sun. I can't offer any higher praise than that. Match Point shares many similarities to A Place in the Sun which in the interest of time and in the interest of not giving away too much of the plot I won't catalogue any further here.
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        Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is also a more than obvious influence. Early in Match Point Chris is seen reading Crime and Punishment. As his relationship with Nola becomes more intense, I imagined that he was a kind of sexual Raskolnikov, creating his own moral philosophy to suit his own desires but eventually things get a little deeper than that. Again, I don't wish to dwell on this because I'd be giving too much away. Largely because of the sexual electricity exuded by Scarlet Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Match Point can boast a level of eroticism that I don't think any other Woody Allen film can. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with great style, manages to not fall into the trap which almost every male lead in a Woody Allen film falls into. He does not, like Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters, Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity or Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda, to name just three examples, play "Woody." Really, no one plays Woody like Woody himself so I very much appreciated Jonathan Rhys Meyers for his disregard of that kind of approach to his character. Scarlet Johansson, as well, is a million miles away from any character ever played by Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow. Early in their acquaintance, Chris and Nola run into each other on a London street. She is on her way to an acting audition. He is eager to spend time with her and manages to become her escort to the audition and, shortly afterwards, becomes her comforter after she fails to get the part. This, of course, is a classic Woody Allen set up but the leads, because they don't seem like Woody Allen characters, manage to provide a wonderful vitality to the scene which it might not have otherwise had.
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           I think those who, like me, are long time admirers of Woody Allen and his films have long been hoping for another truly great film from him. Is Match Point that film? I don't think so, not exactly. There is a lot to admire about it. Certainly, it is superbly cast. I can't possibly say enough good things about Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlet Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton or Brian Cox. Match Point can also boast excellent cinematography (by Remi Adefarasin) and production design (by Jim Clay) but despite all of its wonderful qualities, it ultimately falls short of greatness. Eventually, it becomes just another tale of sexual infidelity and the destruction and emotional turmoil that infidelity can cause. As Chris and Nola's relationship becomes more difficult, the story enters territory Woody Allen has already covered more imaginatively and more convincingly in Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is also a film with an obvious debt to Crime and Punishment. Like a well played tennis match there is great momentum and excitement created by the cast and crew of Match Point but by the beginning of the third act the ball does hit the net, so to speak. Is it Woody Allen's luck which fails him or does he simply run out of the necessary inspiration to take Match Point somewhere new and more exciting than anyplace he's gone before? In either case, if I may be permitted to mix sports metaphors, Match Point isn't the outside the park home run, which I think Woody Allen's admirers have been hoping for. It is still certainly worth seeing though. Match Point is Woody Allen's most mature and most nearly perfect film in quite some time.
   
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Original Film Review written and published by John Carrichner on December 2, 2005.
•  Copyright 2005-2009 all rights reserved.  •



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