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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Match Point (2005)

The last ten years have been a roller coaster ride for Woody Allen fans. He followed the hilarious “Mighty Aphrodite” with the lamentably unfunny “Celebrity,” the immensely entertaining “Sweet and Lowdown,” with the epically unfunny “Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” Now Allen redeems himself with “Match Point,” one of his most brilliant and engaging films to date.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis pro who gets a job in London working as an instructor at an exclusive country club. He meets Tom Hewett, a wealthy playboy who instantly befriends him. Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Morimer) takes a liking to Chris, who reciprocates but finds himself more interested in Tom’s fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Chris marries Chloe but finds himself bored and still lusting after Nola. His desire to satisfy both his carnal lust and his material avarice lead him to acts of frenzied desperation that may, or may not be punished accordingly.

I could write a long essay of the philosophical and literary allusions in “Match Point,” but to do so would be pretentious and not particularly helpful. That said, it is important to at least note some of the more prominent references in the film. Comparisons to Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” are inevitable. At one point in the film, we even see the protagonist reading it. The film also contains coy references to Sophocles and Strindberg, and its plot is reminiscent of Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy.” Allen drops these references like breadcrumbs throughout the film, daring us to follow them and predict the film’s conclusion. “Match Point,” however, lacks Dostoevsky’s sense of justice. As Chris points out throughout the film, one’s luck is a more powerful deciding force than one’s actions.

“Match Point” reminded me a lot of “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Allen’s 1989 film treatise on moral relativism. “Match Point” has more gravitas, however. Allen doesn’t let us have a lot of laughs, and by keeping the tone of the film dark and intense it makes it impossible for us to relax and remove ourselves from the tragedy on the screen. The soundtrack, comprised of classic opera recordings (mostly by Caruso) is the perfect accompaniment to the action on screen (although it sometimes gets a bit cute, with arias from “Macbeth” and “Otello” cuing up at appropriate plot points).

The performances in the film are spectacular. Mr. Rhys-Meyers does an excellent job of silently boiling beneath his placid façade. Emily Mortimer manages to play her role as Chloe without turning her into a caricature. Chloe is a character that I can only describe as being profoundly superficial. She is sweet and vicious, vulnerable and domineering, sympathetic and villainous. I was very impressed by Ms. Mortimer’s deftness in portraying her. That said, the real smoldering success in the film is Ms. Johansson, who brings tremendous depth and passion to the cookie cutter role of sexpot mistress. I just read that Ms. Johansson has just completed another film with Woody Allen called “Scoop,” also set in London. I can’t wait to see it.

The amount of money I'd pay to see this: $9

Woody Allen Summer Project (USA) (working title)
MPAA: Rated R for some sexuality.
Runtime: 124 min
Country: UK / Luxembourg
Language: English
Color: Color


Blogger Tish said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Tish said...

Extremely well put. :)

I'll add that in addition to being spectacular performers, the actors and their cinematography were sufficiently visually delicious that it was often hard for me to resist the urge to grab Rhys-Meyers, a bowl and the nearest spoon.


The question of whether the movie mirrors or contradicts Dostoevsky's morality is a fascinating one. In Chris Wilton I see Roskolinikov quite clearly. Like him, Chris is a pseudo-intellectual (his philosophies borrowed from the cliff notes to the greats) and a megalomaniac who believes himself mired in yuppie hell. Chris drips with disdain at the shallowness of Chloe and her family and revels in his own cultural superiority. Ostensibly to protect this greater good he lashes out at the only innocent thing in his shallow life, Nola, and destroys her. In the aftermath, he as much as admits that in the inevitable punishment that must result, he had hoped to finally find signs of a meaningful and just existence.

As with Roskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker, the world answers Chris' crime with a resounding silence. Chris' emotional self-torment and paranoia (a feeling Mr. Allen transmits intravenously and in high doses to his audience) is Dostoevsky's highest punishment. As we leave the movie with Chris standing alienated and hollow-eyed, is there any doubt of the kind of existence his future holds for him? Forced to face an existence that is purely stochastic and arbitrary without any shred of deeper meaning, Chris is consigned to a wasteland of the soul that makes Siberia look positively verdant in comparison.

12:18 AM  

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