© 2006 Ray Wong
It’s difficult to pin down Woody Allen, the prolific New Yorker who favors independent films over big studio fares. Even so, Allen has a unique style that is unapologetically “Woody Allen-esque.” So imagine the surprise while watching MATCH POINT, a drama-thriller that is every bit as clever and loquacious as other Allen’s films, but also decidedly different.
Chris Wilton (Rhys-Meyers) is a “retired” tennis pro who quits the game to teach at a prestigious country club, where he meets Tom Hewett (Goode), son of wealthy Alec (Cox) and Eleanor (Wilton). The Hewett family takes an immediate liking to the handsome and assertive young man, especially Chloe (Mortimer), the youngest and sweetest Hewett. Soon, Chris and Chloe become a couple, and the Hewetts are more than happy to groom Chris for the family business.
At a family gathering, Chris encounters sexy Nola (Johansson), Tom’s fiancé. They flirt blatantly when nobody is watching. One stormy afternoon, Chris and Nola find themselves unable to keep their passion under wrap, and they make love. Later, Nola insists that what happened was only a one-time fling, and she’d have nothing to do with Chris, who becomes more obsessed with her as time goes by. After Tom and Nola broke up, Nola disappears and Chris decides to tie the knot with Chloe. A year later, when Chris sees Nola again, his life would forever change from that moment on.
Rhys-Meyers (ALEXANDER) is intense as Chris Wilton, the aggressive manipulator who carries much of the film. That’s a lot of weight to rest on the young actor’s shoulders. At times, Rhys-Meyers’s performance is forced and unconvincing, lacking the emotional depth that is required of the character. Still, his intensity, good looks and charms compensate for any shortcomings. Johansson (THE ISLAND) plays a very grown-up role – a seductress who doesn’t seem to know guilt or remorse. While it’s not her best performance to date, Johansson’s Nola is still fascinating to watch.
Mortimer (DEAR FRANKIE) plays the sweet Chloe to great effect. We root for her, yet find her gullibility and naiveté rather pathetic at the same time. The actress puts together a wonderful but understated performance, here. Cox (THE RINGER) doesn’t have much to do, but his presence adds certain warmth to the material. Wilton (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) has a grand time playing the outspoken Hewett matriarch. Goode (IMAGINE ME & YOU), as the handsome, earnest but bland Tom Hewett, provides a nice counterpoint to Rhys-Meyers’s charismatic but manipulative Chris.
Writer-Director Allen (MELINDA AND MELINDA) has given us a taut psychological drama-thriller that is unlike what he has done before. First, he sets the story in London instead of New York. While his trademarked intellectual, long-winded dialogue is still evident in the film, Allen’s direction is languid and deliberate, evoking the right atmosphere and emotions through meticulous lighting, camera work, and gorgeous location shots.
The film opens slowly and takes its time to unfold, letting us get to know the characters and their intertwining lives. Then come the twists and turns that are rather unpredictable. There are three films in MATCH POINT: The first act resembles last year’s CLOSER, exploring the intricacies of deceptions and betrayals. The second act reminds me of FATAL ATTACTION, the cautionary tale of an affair gone bad. And the last act has that strange, tragic feel of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY to it.
That’s the thing. Allen’s script is suspenseful and full of surprises, very much the strength of the film. However, one can’t help but sense that the film lacks a soul. The characters (except for Chloe) are unlikable, and the ending, while unexpected and clever, is disappointing in that it leaves the audience feeling defeated. Allen also breaks from the mood of the film, near the end, with the introduction of the detectives. Also, Chris’s final actions are not consistent with the situations and motivations, despite the fact that Allen has spent over two-thirds of the film developing the character. I just don’t buy it. Perhaps that’s one major flaw I find in this clever concoction of deceits and consequences, even though I think Allen’s mature skills remain unmatched in many ways.
Stars: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, language
Running time: 124 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total Score – 7.2 out of 10