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Match Point Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/22/2006

Woody Allen has always been one of my favorite directors, but in the last few years, his movies have been so-so.  Match Point is certainly one of his best of the new millennium…and one of the best in his 40-film career.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an Irish former professional tennis player who believes in luck.  He makes an analogy about luck:  It’s like when a tennis ball hits the top of the net.  It can either fall on the other side, and you win, or it can fall back to the player’s side, and you lose.  He believes in being lucky rather than being good.  He is a decent player, but he has never been the best at it, so he wants to chuck in all and look for something else, rather than continue touring the road playing tennis.  He moves to London and takes a job as a tennis pro teaching rich people the sport at a local country club.  He can’t imagine doing it forever, but it pays the bills (he comes from a poor working-class background back in Ireland.)  One of his first clients is Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the adult son of prosperous businessman Alec Hewett (Brian Cox) and his socialite wife Eleanor (Penelope Wilton.)  They bond over their mutual love of opera, and Tom invites Chris to see an opera with him and his family.  Luck shines again with Chris, as he meets and instantly hits it off with Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) at the opera.  At a party at the Hewitt household, Chris meets and falls in lust with Tom’s fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson.)  Nola is a struggling American actress from Boulder, Colorado, who has the same poor working-class background as Chris.  Eleanor thinks that the young woman is beneath her son, even though they both share a penchant for drinking a lot.  Chris and Chloe begin dating, and their dating eventually becomes physical, but he just can’t get Nola out of his head.  One day, Chris runs into Nola again, and they get to know one another.  He finds out that she had been married previously.  Not long after that, Alec, impressed by how upstanding this young man is, gets Chris a job at Hewitt Inc., Alec’s company.  On one rainy weekend, Eleanor is especially cruel to Nola, and Nola takes a walk in the rain.  Chris follows her, and they end up having sex in a wheat field while the rain pours down upon them (it’s a hot scene.)  They decide never to repeat the act again, and they go on with their lives.  Chris marries Chloe, and she immediately expresses her desire to have a child.  Nola breaks up with Tom, who ends up marrying another woman and having a daughter with her.  Chris tries to conceive a baby with Chloe, but he still can’t stop thinking about Nola.  One day, Chris runs into Nola again, and since Nola is no longer with Tom, he and Nola begin having an affair.  When Nola tells Chris that she is pregnant, she threatens to tell Chloe about the affair unless he divorces Chloe and marries her instead.  Rather than give up his affluent lifestyle that he has now become accustomed to, he decides to do something drastic to fix his luck.

I have to admit that I was apprehensive before I saw the movie.  While I like Allen’s comedies, drama is not something that I look forward to from him.  Most of his movies have been either comedies or comedy-dramas (a.k.a. dramedies), but he has done at least one other drama that I can think of…1978’s Interiors.  In my opinion, it is the worst movie of Allen’s career, because it is so boring and depressing.  I know that it was in homage to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, but since all of Bergman’s movies (or at least the ones I forced myself to watch) are boring and depressing as well, it should not come as a surprise.  The other thing I was afraid of was that I would have to sit through another bad Johansson flick.  While I haven’t seen all of her movies, I haven’t seen a good one since 2001’s Ghost World (yes…this includes 2003’s dull Lost in Translation.)

The movie ended up being much better than I had expected, and the cast (including Johansson) was fine throughout.  Rhys Meyers (I read in an interview with him that he doesn’t spell his last name with a hyphen) has a lot of sexual heat with Johansson, and sexual heat is not a thing that you usually find in an Allen movie (could you imagine Woody rolling around in the field with a young hottie?  Ewww!)  The actor, who recently won a Golden Globe for his portrayal as Elvis Presley in a CBS miniseries last spring, looked like Elvis at the beginning of the movie (I kept expecting him to bust into “Jailhouse Rock” or something.)  As the movie went on, I stopped seeing Elvis and started seeing this morally bankrupt character with luck on his side.  Also, he doesn’t play a “Woody” character…meaning that the lead character doesn’t try impersonating Allen when the director himself isn’t in the movie.  Johansson plays a decent version of the Glenn Close character from 1987’s Fatal Attraction…minus the boiling bunnies.  Other critics have praised Mortimer as the highlight of the film, but I thought that she played the same perky character that she always plays (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Match Point is Allen’s first movie shot entirely in Britain (most of his other movies are either shot in or take place in New York.)  I think that the change of scenery has allowed Allen to stop his old, tired routines and embark on something fresh.  He was originally going to set it in the Hamptons, but when it was too expensive to film it there, he crossed the pond and set it in London.  Aside from this being an actual entertaining drama and Rhys Meyers not doing a “Woody,” it is truly a real thriller with a great unpredictable ending.  Many other critics have compared this movie to Allen’s own Crimes and Misdemeanors from 1989, but while it has been awhile since I have seen that movie, I remember it being slightly different (at least in tone.)  Crimes was definitely a dramedy, whereas this movie is definitely a drama.  I was lucky finally to see an entertaining Allen drama, and you will find yourself lucky to see it as well.

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