Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Match Point - Movie Review

Match Point 2005

In this year end frenzy of Giant Apes, Gay Cowboys, International Espionage and Thudding Musicals – one last major film sneaks in prior to the Awards cut off date. Woody Allen has been making films for over four decades, some of them brilliant, some charming, some have become bona fide classics and some . . . well, let’s just leave better left unsaid. Oh, alright – ever since his Korean invasion, the Woodman’s track record has been spotty at best. He has directed near forty feature length films, and by now most of you know his schtick. Neurotic New Yorkers dissecting their relationships. In a nutshell. And we love him. We have to admit it. Event thru the duds, we always believed he is capable of turning out another gem. Earlier this year, he surprised many critics with his return to comic form, “Melinda and Melinda.” And with his latest, “Match Point”, the Woodster has triumphed again!

Match Point” is in the grand cinematic tradition of “Double Indemnity” as seen thru the eyes of the one and only Woody Allen. If you have been unfortunate enough to sit through the lame ass preview in theatres – you will think this is a tired retread of Man-Has-Affair-Plots-to-Kill-His-Boring-Wife. Well, it might have been under a less talented director. But Woody Allen is nothing if not resourceful in dealing with reexaminations of basic storylines. Taking a break from his typical New York City neurotic milieu, “Match Point” is set in London and features a fine roster of actors.

As is often the case with Woody, the cast is uniformly good and particularly well chosen. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has always interested us, not only for his luscious lips. While he could have coasted on his pretty boy looks over the years, he frequently chooses roles that are a bit more challenging. In “Match Point”, he carries the film beautifully. Cast as the out of his league former tennis pro, turned instructor for the posh set – he is always believable. His character, Chris Wilton, seems to be floating along, barely making ends meet when his luck turns by becoming friends with one of the clubs members. The deliciously sexy Brit, Matthew Goode portrays Tom Hewett, the scion of an enormously wealthy family, whose sister Chloe takes an instant liking to Chris. And why shouldn’t she? As portrayed by that mouseburger nonpareil, Emily Mortimer – she is a kind hearted but incredibly dull lass whose biggest asset is her money. Chris insinuates himself into their upper class lifestyle and thereupon meets Tom’s fiancée – one Nola Rice.
Well, drop the pudding and slap the gardener – ‘cause Miss Rice is played by Scarlett Johansson as one hot chippy! Now, while we adored Scarlett in “Ghost World” and “Lost in Translation”, her penchant for grabbing headlines over good roles has not quite endeared us to her. Thank God, she is perfectly cast as the petulant and vain Chloe who takes full advantage of her equally luscious lips and trouser dropping contralto. (Sidenote: Don’t sit too close to the screen, between Jonathan and Scarlett – their lips threaten to suck in every audience member during their steamy love making.)

Now, you must be saying to yourselves: “Selves, this has to lead to the affair and then the plotting to murder the wife, etc.” Well, you’d be wrong. Not to fret. That’s why we’re here. To correct you. The wonderful thing about “Match Point” is that it handles the clichéd with such aplomb and flair, that even if it were to go down the typical thriller route – it would still seem fresh and new. Woody Allen has shown himself capable of great emotion in his work, but all too often he has been labeled a dispassionate filmmaker. We would not totally disagree with that claim, but we would soften that criticism by stating that most people would view anything even remotely intellectual as unemotional. And that thought, we disagree with. The capacity to think is not in direct contrast with the ability to feel. While we admire other directors like Ron Howard whose entire oeuvre is one of emotional outpouring, the dangerous flipside to that is schmaltz. Just try and sit thru “Backdraft” or “Edtv” to watch the heartbreak butter being slathered about.

With “Match Point”, Woody Allen shows himself to be at the top of his game. He uses the camera sparingly and coolly. There are no grand theatrics or MTV style editing tricks. When the shocks come, and there are a few – they arrive with subtlety and grace. One of the reasons we enjoyed Scarlett’s performance was how directly in contrast her character appears to Jonathan’s newfound world of privilege and class. Her sensual gifts while not so unattainable are completely unavailable in his wealthy wife’s world of High Tea and Shooting Parties. Jonathan’s character is drawn completely into his secret adulterous life, less out of avarice and more out of distraction. While we may not sympathize with his character’s less than gentlemanly behavior, we cannot help but understand that his choices are made out pure desire and not a willful maliciousness.

We don’t want to ruin any of the delightful surprises to be found along the way, suffice to say we adored this examination of “Luck” and the role it plays in all our lives. We are thrilled to welcome Woody back to the fold. His work on “Match Point” ranks with some of his best. And that is true praise indeed. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Woody Allen

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Christopher Wilton
Scarlett Johansson as Nola Rice
Emily Mortimer as Chloe Hewett
Matthew Goode as Tom Hewett
Brian Cox as Alec Hewett
Penelope Wilton as Eleanor Hewett
Margaret Tyzack as Mrs. Eastby
James Nesbitt as Detective Banner
Ewen Bremner as Inspector Dowd

Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin
Film Editing by Alisa Lepselter
Costume Design by Jill Taylor
Production Design by Jim Clay
Set Decoration by Caroline Smith