Woody Allen returns to the top of his game with the dark thriller MATCH POINT, ostensibly an original
screenplay but one that is clearly influenced by Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy (and by
extension its film versions, including A PLACE IN THE SUN). Although Allen had originally intended to set
his movie in the Hamptons, funding issues arose. It’s a measure of how messed up the entertainment industry
is that this man cannot raise the funds to make his movies in the United States. Instead, he found backers in the
United Kingdom (BBC Films), and the move has seemingly re-energized his creative juices. Working with a
mostly British cast and crew (including director of photography Remi Adefarasin), Allen has crafted one of his
best features in years, indeed, one of the best movies of 2005.
Opening with a tennis ball being lobbed over a net, Allen freezes the frame on a particular shot where
the ball could fall either way, depending on a host of factors, including luck. It turns out that luck is the theme
of this movie, particularly as it applies to its anti-hero Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). A former tennis
pro, Wilton happens to be in the right place at the right time and receives an offer to give lessons at a posh
club. Before long, one of his clients, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) is extending invitations to the opera and
later to lunch at the home of his wealthy parents (Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton). Tom’s sister Chloe
(Emily Mortimer) makes her interest in the young man known. Chris, however, is much more intrigued by
Tom’s fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring actress from America.
The pieces are all in place for this tidy and taut drama. Chris and Nola enjoy a brief fling before it
becomes clear she is committed to Tom. Or at least appears to be. Without warning, Nola leaves London.
Chris marries Chloe and accepts a position at a company owned by his father-in-law. All seems to be going
well enough until a chance meeting with Nola rekindles the affair, this time with disastrous results.
One of the joys of watching MATCH POINT is realizing that Allen is in top form. Having seemingly
coasted on his reputation in the last few years (while he remained adrift in the American film industry’s studio
system), he easily could have slid further into decline. Whatever alchemy was involved, though, Allen
has produced a terrific film. In his best movies, he casts the roles superbly and here he (and casting directors
Juliet Taylor, Gail Stevens and Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto) have found the perfect actors. One might not think
of hiring Brian Cox to play an upper class businessman or pairing him with the acerbically wonderful Penelope
Wilton, but these old pros work marvelously together. Rhys Meyers is another unusual choice, but he proves
perfect in his role. Emily Mortimer does her usually splendid job, blending so well into the ensemble that I fear
she won’t receive the proper credit for what she brings to the movie. The key to the film’s success, though, is
Scarlett Johansson. I don’t think there is anything this young actress cannot do. Even in mediocre films like
THE ISLAND, she brings a special verve to her work. Here she offers yet another impressive turn, again playing
much older than her 21 years. With her world-weary, husky voice, luscious lips and luminous beauty, Johansson
projects a character who is both insecure with her talent but secure in her sexual allure. It’s a fine line to walk,
and this extraordinary young actress does it splendidly, embodying the soul of the film.
In supporting roles, James Nesbitt as a dogged detective, Rupert Penry-Jones as Chris' pal, and
the always splendid Margaret Tyzack as Johansson’s neighbor, all make vivid impressions.
MATCH POINT is a highlight of Allen’s long and distinguished career and a welcome return for
this distinguished filmmaker.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality
Running time: 124 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.