Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon #3: Match Point

In the third part of Nostra’s Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon here is that next obstruction:

Since I’ve been watching a lot of films by Woody Allen this past summer, I recently revisited one of Allen’s great films in Match Point. I have a review that I wrote back in 2006 where my recent re-watch had me wanting to do another review as I decided to do this other one where I share the same views with various other critics about the film. Here is that review:

Woody Allen’s 2005 film Match Point is considered a return-to-form for the filmmaker after a period of films that were either received poorly or got mixed reviews. Yet, it is this drama about a former tennis pro who marries the daughter of a rich businessman who later engages into an affair with his brother-in-law’s American girlfriend that later gets complicated as it’s a film that mixes romance, drama, and suspense. Conceptually, it covers familiar territory for the romantic drama, but it reaches to be like Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. This solid, well-observed and cerebral presentation signifies that Woody is back in full stride after some recent so-so works. Though laden with thematic references to Strindberg's plays, Verdi's opera, modern art and tennis, it overall comes closest in narrative to his Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Allen opens Match Point with the image of a tennis ball hitting the net, and after a lot of casual conversations about the role that luck plays in shaping a life, the movie simplifies in its second half, becoming about one simple question: On which side of the net is that ball going to fall? The image repeats later—this time with a ring that hits a guardrail—and at that point, the movie really could've ended with a hard ironic twist. Yet, Allen is far smarter than that where it plays into the idea of luck and how luck can seal a man’s fate in the decisions he makes including in the most despicable actions such as infidelity and much more.

The lead role of Chris played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a very interesting character as someone who was once a gifted tennis pro but life after tennis has left him little opportunities. Yet, he still manages to find ways to navigate into places that is foreign to him to see how he can thrive in that world. In fact, as played by Meyers, Chris always is aware of his opportunities and always is playing a kind of mental tennis with people. He may not have a grand design, but he always knows where he is placing the ball and what he hopes to achieve. There, he allows the mentality to get him a job at the club where he meets Tom Hewett, played by Matthew Goode, whose father is a rich businessman.

The handsome Chris is quickly taken into the Hewett family fold. Not as easily absorbed into the posh family's good graces is Nola (Scarlett Johansson), Tom's fiancée. Nola, the daughter of an alcoholic single mother, is heatedly disliked by Tom's controlling mother (Penelope Wilton). When Chris first encounters the sexy Nola, he develops a strong attraction to her but embarks on a relationship with Chloe, Tom's sunny sister (a superb Emily Mortimer). Tom breaks up with Nola and marries someone else. Chris marries Chloe, who enlists the aid of her affable father (Brian Cox) to get Chris a job and help him up the corporate ladder. Still, Chris is entranced by Nola as he wouldn’t see her for months until she shows up at an art gallery where he was supposed to meet Chloe.

Emily Mortimer and Scarlett Johansson show different faces of womankind. Mortimer's Chloe is the nurturing, supportive female: one who takes her husband's denial of an affair at face value and whose primary goal in marriage is to give her parents grandchildren. It's a role that Mortimer slides into without difficulty. Johansson, on the other hand, is simultaneously self-sufficient and needy. It’s the flaws of Nola as well as her background that has Chris feel attracted towards her. What passes between Chris and Nola is not only desire, but also recognition, which makes their connection especially volatile.

Notably in the third act where Nola drops a bombshell that would affect Chris’ family life as he tries to keep things a secret. Rhys-Meyers - an underrated actor - takes time to warm to Woody's ways, but ultimately delivers a subtle, affecting portrait of a man torn between two women and ways of life as he realizes the decision that he has to make. One of which would involve Chris taking on drastic measures that would be extreme. Allen has, however, stuck with his recent nasty streak, and underneath its lovely, icy cinematography, Match Point is a noir supreme; Fritz Lang would have loved it. Yet no matter how dark things get, the characters still behave in a rational, believable way. Unlike most Hollywood films, no one does anything stupid out of sheer stupidity. Here, the missteps occur because of misdirected passion.

It’s a film that is more about the idea of luck and how it can drive a man’s fate. The movie is more about plot and moral vacancy than about characters, and so Allen uses type-casting to quickly establish the characters and set them to their tasks of seduction, deception, lying and worse. It’s one of the reasons why this film is considered one of Allen’s finest though it doesn’t rank with some of the great films of his career like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, and Crimes & Misdemeanors depending on one’s taste of what someone thinks of Allen’s overall career. Still, Match Point is sexy, mysterious, suspense-driven, eventful and essentially quite unforgettable that shows that Woody Allen still has it.

The quotes in bold are from the following in the exact order:

Dennis Schwartz, Ozu’s World Movie Reviews
Noel Murray, AV Club
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
Claudia Puig, USA Today
James Beradinelli, ReelViews
AO Scott, New York Times
Andy Jacobs, BBC
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Gary W. Tooze, DVD Beaver

© thevoid99 2013


Chris said...

Interesting and pretty demanding obstruction.
I love Match Point, my favorite Woody Allen film. I can rewatch it every 3-4 years. (It probably helps that I've read the book Crime & Punishment, I like tennis, and Scarlett Johansson is in it.)
Love that quote you found about mental tennis. Emily Mortimer was indeed excellent-perfectly cast.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and I truly love this movie! One of Woody's finest films of the aughts!

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-This wasn't easy and I really hope I don't get sued for sampling these quotes as I do credit them and put links.

@Fisti-It's been on TV for a while and I just like to watch it even more though it still has a few flaws that I can live with.

Nostra said...

Great review...have not seen the movie itself though. You have earned your golden checkmark.

thevoid99 said...

@Nostra-Thank you! What's next?