Sunday, November 20, 2011

Match Point

Originally Written and Posted at on 1/27/06 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Woody Allen, Match Point returns to the dramatic theme of morality and murder that he discussed in 1989's Crimes & Misdemeanors. This time, the setting for Allen's new film is in the upper-class world of London society where an ex-Irish tennis pro found himself climbing up the world of upper-class British society as he meets a client's sister and their family only to be tempted by his client's American fiancee. The film discusses on how luck can do things for a young man as he is forced to choose between a modest lifestyle or a safe, secure lifestyle with all the works. Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton, James Nesbitt, Ewen Bremner, and Brian Cox. Match Point is an excellent, return-to-form feat from Woody Allen.

After a period of playing professional tennis, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is searching for a new life after being bored from playing tennis. After taking a job working as a tennis instructor for a posh country club, he meets a young man named Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) who becomes a tennis student. After a conversation about opera, Tom invites Chris to watch an opera with his family including Tom's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), his father Alec (Brian Cox), and mother Eleanor (Penelope Wilton). After being invited frequently to the Hewett home, Chris becomes attracted to Chloe while being in awe of the hard work Alec has done with his life. During a party, Chris meets Tom's American fiancee Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) as Chris finds himself attracted to Nola's sensuality.

After a series of double dates and dinners, Chris learns of Nola's background as he meets her again when she's up for an audition that fails as she continues to struggle as an actress. While Chris feels happy with Chloe, he's surprised at the generosity he's been getting from Alec who accepts him immediately into the family as is Eleanor who doesn't have the same feelings towards Nola. During a day at the Hewett home, Eleanor's suggestions and criticism about Nola's failed desire to become an actress gets to her as she walks out upset as Chris comes after her where they begin a fling. The affair only becomes brief as Nola wants to move on and after she broke up with Tom, she leaves the U.S. With Tom marrying a woman named Carol (Rose Keegan), Chris marries Chloe but his obsession with Nola troubles him.

The result of his obsession only troubles Chloe's desire to want a child as Chris' new job working in his father-in-law's firm leaves him a bit unfulfilled. Then one day at a museum, Nola appears as he asks her phone number. Immediately, a secretive affair happens as Chris finds his fulfillment with Nola but a secure future with Chloe though their attempts to create a child only troubles them. Then when the affair gets more intense, Nola doesn't want the affair to be secretive anymore. Chris finds himself in a bind as he learns some distressing news from Nola as she demands that he should leave Chloe. Chris turns to an old friend in Henry (Rupert-Penry Jones) about his situation where a life with Nola could be modest but there's no future but with Chloe, he is secure and can get anything. While Chloe becomes suspicious of what's going on, Chris goes to a drastic decision that will haunt him.

While the story of Match Point isn't anything groundbreaking, particularly in the third act which resembles the dramatic situation in Allen's 1989 masterpiece Crimes & Misdemeanors. What is new is where Allen goes to where originally, it was supposed to be in Long Island, New York but due to financial situations, London becomes a new background where everything works. Not only does Allen explore the posh world of London but he uses the city as a new world that he never has been to by delving into Alfred Hitchcock for his script. The story does reference the idea of luck but in a more realistic yet cynical point of view where Allen comes to the conclusion that the world isn't very happy. Particularly when the third act is explored by two detectives in Inspector Dowd (Ewen Bremner) and Detective Banner (James Nesbitt).

While Allen's direction is his most entrancing since Husbands & Wives, it's because he aims for an observant view of how these characters live and how they behave. By the third act, it begins to deconstruct itself from this study of a man trying to work his way into the upper class only to find a way to mess with it. In that third act, not only does Allen rip himself off but also Hitchcock on how he plots things and how he uses elements of mystery where the conclusion overall becomes a bit more cynical and nihilistic. In many ways, this is Allen at his most bleakest. His strength as a director is only topped more in his role as a writer. The script is by far is most inspiring and solid since Crimes & Misdemeanors where in the previous film, he explores the morals and in Match Point, he goes into the idea of trying to get away with it without any moral consent.

Both stories have certain parallels in the way Nola is a bit like Anjelica Huston's character Dolores and Chris is a bit like Martin Landau's Judah Rosenthal. The difference is that the characters in Match Point aren't just younger but are in entirely different situations of sympathy and where their characters stand. What is similar is in the situations they're in terms of where they're at in their lives where both Chris and Judah are living in respected, posh lifestyles and how their affairs would threaten their positions and the people around them. Both men not only could find ways to reason with their lovers but choose crime to deal with it. The only difference is the moral aftermath and the situations that result. The Nola/Dolores characters are both desperate, neurotic, and passionate but only the Dolores character seems to be more in sympathy since she's the one more ridden with guilt while Nola really has nothing to offer. In many ways, this is Woody Allen reaching into old territory and finding something new to say.

Helping Allen in his observant vision is cinematographer Remi Adefarasin who does a wonderful job in capturing the beauty world of posh London with his lighting techniques of the interiors and exteriors in its grey skies. Production designer Jim Clay and set decorator Caroline Smith do a great job in not capturing the locations of the rich world of London but finding every way where this world does feel a sense of comfort as opposed to the more simplistic world of Nola. The costumes by Jill Taylor also reveal the posh world, particularly the suits of Chris and Tom and the dresses for Chloe and Nola. Alisa Lepselter, who has been Allen's editor since 1999's Sweet & Lowdown, does a wonderful job in giving the film a leisurely pace in its near two-hour running time which makes it Allen’s longest film to date.

Then there is the music where in previous films, Allen goes for jazz pieces but in this film he goes for opera. The opera music uses it as a dramatic crutch while bringing the emotional tension and drama where Allen plays the film as if it was an opera where tragedy is to come. His choice of music by Guiseppe Verdi, Gioacchino Rossini, Carlo Gomes, Georges Bizet, Gaetano Donizetti, and Andrew Lloyd Webber definitely creates a wonderful film soundtrack and a nice introduction mix-tape for opera music.

Finally, we have the cast which includes nice, small performances from Rose Keegan, Rupert-Penry Jones, Geoffrey Streatfield as Chris' boss at the firm, and Margaret Tyzack as Nola's neighbor. Ewen Bremner and James Nesbitt are excellent in their roles as detectives with differing views on things where Bremner seems more cynical while Nesbitt is more imaginative in his ideas of how crime is committed. Penelope Wilton is wonderful in his role as Eleanor whose views can be hurtful but is a woman who only wants the best for her children despite her own ideals. Brian Cox is perfect as this generous, warm man who has accomplished everything while wanting to give Chris a shot for his own hard work and providing comfort for everyone around him, including Nola. Matthew Goode is also excellent as the charming Tom who likes to show off while being friendly to Chris while his own actions for Nola on their break-up reveals a flaw about his own reputation in front of his family.

Of the supporting cast, Emily Mortimer is the real star as a naive, scorned woman who may live a posh life but has at least some knowledge of the world outside her. Mortimer displays a sweetness and restraint as a scorned woman who becomes suspicious while feeling she might not be enough for Chris as Mortimer really gives a masterful, truly sympathetic performance as she tries to give everything for her husband. Scarlett Johansson is also excellent in her performance as Nola where she starts off as this fragile, neurotic young woman who has trouble trying to start a career while getting into an affair. By the third act, Johansson makes her character to be very unlikable although it doesn't entirely work since it's more of a caricature of Anjelica Huston's character in Crimes & Misdemeanors where Nola has no motivation for what she can do with her life with Chris.

Finally, there's Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in his best performance to date as Chris Wilton. What Rhys-Meyers did which was a wise decision for a Woody Allen film was being a Woody Allen protagonist but without acting like Allen. Rhys-Meyers definitely brings a performance that is brilliant in terms of trying to protect himself while delving into bad deeds. When it comes to the situation and decisions he's in, Rhys-Meyers shows the morality and anguish his character is in as he plays it perfectly while having great chemistry with both Johansson and Mortimer.

While it's not a groundbreaking film, Match Point is truly a superb effort from Woody Allen who definitely has made his best film since Crimes & Misdemeanors. Thanks to a great cast led by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, Matthew Goode, and Penelope Wilton, Allen has finally got his mojo back. Though it's unclear if he can keep it going, this film does prove in why Woody Allen is one of the best as he delves into some new territory of cynicism and justice. While new fans could find something attractive about the film, old fans will definitely be pleased as Woody Allen scores with Match Point.

Woody Allen Films: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? - Take the Money & Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love & Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories-Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don't Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

It's an awesome movie. So elegant. What made me love it even more was that I showed it to my daughters and they loved it too. Until that point all my efforts to introduce Allen to them had failed. But they loved Matchpoint so much that they've shared it with their friends as well. It's very accessible.

thevoid99 said...

It's been a while since I've seen it and there's stuff that I like about it even more though I'm still mixed on Scarlett Johansson's performance.

I'm inclined to agree with you that for a young audience, Match Point would be a nice introduction to Woody Allen since it does feel like a more accessible film. Probably due to the cast that he used and it worked.

Anonymous said...

It's one of Allen's best because he really brings a straight-forward but compelling story that is beautifully filmed and acted by everyone involved. It's also one of Scarlett's best performances, and even though that may not be saying much, she still shows that she's not just another pretty face. Great review my dude.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-I agree that there's more Scarlett than just being a sex symbol. Unfortunately, she hasn't done a lot to prove that considering the roles Woody Allen has made for her.

I would probably rank this performance of hers somewhere in the middle. I'm not really sure where. Thanks for the comment.