Match Point

  • Woody Allen
  • 2006

Match Point, in the hands of many other directors, could easily have devolved into another Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987) style knock off. Crucially, however, this is a Woody Allen film and like it or not, it has to be noticed. Already, a lot of reviews have derided the film. They have predictably stated that Allen should stick to comedies forgetting that he actually has been churning out comedies almost exclusively since the early 2000s and nobody has really noticed.

Allen’s exclusively “serious ones” have been at best harshly contested or at worst completely forgotten about despite his predilection and admiration for the style. Allen’s dramas work best when they have elements of humour that make the pathos even more affecting (see Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999)). But while Match Point doesn’t equal either of these for dramatic intensity and moral exploration, it is Allen’s conviction in capturing the idea of luck and its almost unnoticed role in our lives that makes this film unique by any standards.

there are four or five scenes where the dialogue just sweeps you along with its dexterity

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Chris Wilton, an Irish working class tennis coach in London who falls helplessly in lust with his upper-class friend Tom’s American fiance Nola (Scarlett Johansson). However, Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) falls in love with Chris and he reluctantly marries her. When Tom and Nola separate, Chris’ affair with her intensifies and his inability to confront Chloe with the truth leads to tragic consequences.

Allen has assembled an impressive cast though some are underused or unconvincing in their roles. As the central pair, Rhys-Meyers doesn’t fit as Irish or working class (he is even more impeccably dressed and spoken as his new upper class family) but his deterioration as the affair gets out of control is thoroughly involving even when his character makes wildly unpredictable decisions. Johansson pleasingly stays just the right side of the traditional borderline psychopathic jilted lover and Chris’ infatuation with her is totally understandable. She is incredibly realistic and convincing as her character becomes more sidelined both in terms of screen time and in terms of her treatment by Chris.

Much criticism has been aimed at Allen’s often inaccurate grasp of British vernacular and while some sentences do jar the flow (when’s the last time you called someone a schmuck), there are four or five scenes where the dialogue just sweeps you along with its dexterity (highlight? “Faith is the passage of least resistance”). More problematic is the pacing. The film noticeably sags in the middle and at over two hours (a first for Allen) it can be a little fidget inducing.

Match Point may not herald a return to form so much as a new direction.

Also, there is a lot of unrealised potential in some supporting characters including the callow and naive Chloe, Brian Cox as her generous but firm father and Matthew Goode, thoroughly engaging as the oblivious Tom. This strand doesn’t erupt into chaos, as you’d expect, which might be dissatisfying. Things also look like they may become cliched as proceedings are peppered with plenty of ill-timed phone calls, faked holidays and failed confessions. But the last 25 minutes are breathlessly nerve-wracking and topped with a smart twist that perfectly wraps up the running theme of luck and how the directions of our lives hinge upon it.

Is this yet another “return to form” for Woody Allen? Well, it’s too soon to tell. Both his two previous films (Melinda and Melinda (2004) and Anything Else (2003)) have both been described as such though they are far from perfect. Match Point is certainly Allen’s sexiest film for a long while despite being his most formulaically genre-bound. However, with a new beloved milieu for his stories (Allen has already completed his second London-bound film, Scoop (2006)), a new muse (it again stars Scarlett Johansson) and a totally effective handling of suspense, Match Point may not herald a return to form so much as a new direction.

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