It's become much too easy
to not take Woody Allen seriously. After all, it has been
about a decade since his last truly memorable film (the
flawed-but-fascinating Mighty Aphrodite) and over fifteen years since
his last acknowledged masterpiece (the nearly perfect morality play
Crimes and Misdemeanors – arguably his best film ever.)
However, now, finally, those
two statements can be made in the past tense. Match Point is a
reminder of what a vital and brilliant artist Allen can be. It is all
the more fascinating because it is so different from what we have come to
expect from the poet laureate of New York social circles.
Not that the movie is wholly
unique to Allen. In fact Match Point is somewhat parallel to
Crimes and Misdemeanors if you look strictly at the plotline (a man who
has married into money becomes involved in an affair with an unstable woman
and has to deal with it) and the themes (whether good is always rewarded and
evil is always punished).
Now for those of you who
miss the early, funnier Woody, I've gotta warn you, Match Point is no
comedy. It has some very clever jokes strewn about – as all good
Allen dramas do – but this is a deadly serious piece of filmmaking.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays
Chris Wilton, a former tennis professional who takes a job teaching the game
to rich amateurs in London. He gets seduced by the upper crust in the
form of Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a charming heir with a devil-may-care
attitude. Chris starts dating and eventually marries his sister Chloe
(Emily Mortimer). However, he is drawn to Tom's fiancée, Nola (Scarlett
Johansson), a struggling actress from the States.
Nola is striking and men are
drawn to her, but she knows her limitations. "I'm not beautiful, I'm sexy,"
she drunkenly acknowledges to Chris early on. "Men seem to think I
would be something special." When he asks pointedly if she is, she
chuckles, "No one has ever asked for their money back." Nola also
knows she is a mediocre actress and she could be just as happy as a rich
wife. Any kind of success would make her content, just so long as she
doesn't have to go home to Boulder, Colorado as a failure.
They both know it is a wrong
move, but Chris and Nola fall into a passionate affair. However Chris
starts to rethink things when Nola becomes clingy. Suddenly he has to
decide between the passion he feels for Nola and the comfort he feels with
Chloe. Also, he has to take in consideration how quickly he has become
accustomed to the trappings of wealth.
Match Point is, at
its core, a treatise on the fickleness of fate. None of the people in
it are really good people – even the quote-unquote victims are selfish
users – but the difference between success and failure is the flip of a
coin. Or the bounce of a ball off a net. Or it is birthright.
For the people on the outside looking in, it is a profitable marriage.
Allen has returned to
cynicism about human behavior and it makes this film coil like a snake.
Whether a character deserves his or her happy or tragic ending are
completely beside the point. As Chris says, it really is better to be
lucky than it is to be good.
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Posted: December 9, 2005.