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MATCH POINT

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brian Cox, Matthew Goode, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Penelope Wilton
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  None
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  May 2, 2006

“You’re gonna do very well for yourself, unless you blow it.”

“And how am I going to blow it?”

“By making a pass at me.”

Film ****

Woody Allen once famously said that were he reincarnated, he wanted to come back as Warren Beatty’s fingertips.  For myself, if I were to come back, I’d want to be Woody Allen’s brain. 

I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, and after the death of Stanley Kubrick, I’ve constantly proclaimed him as the greatest living American filmmaker.  His body of work has ranged from the screwball comedy to the chamber drama, from the intense character study to the musical.  There is no such thing as a typical Allen film.

That’s always been true, and it may be more true than ever with his Oscar nominated Match Point.  No comedy here, friends…just a straight ahead drama about motivations that are even larger than the characters who experience them.  It’s a sexy, driven look at the darker side of human emotions, and what price we might be willing to pay to indulge them.

It stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, a young Irish man who temporarily rose out of nowhere on the tennis circuit, but has since found he lacked the high level of talent and the drive needed to stay competitive.  While scrounging out a living in England giving lessons at an exclusive club, he meets up with Tom Hewett (Goode).

Tom is the son in a wealthy family, and he invites Chris out to their estate.  There he meets sister Chloe (Mortimer), a sweet young thing who soon falls for Chris.  Her father (Cox), who is probably accustomed to acquiring for his daughter anything she wants, offers Chris a lucrative position in the company.

But in the meantime, Chris also meets Tom’s fiancée Nola (the stunning Johansson), a struggling American actress with the kind of pure, noir-ish sex appeal we haven’t seen lighting up the screen since the days of Gene Tierney. 

Chris, from that moment, treads a thin and dangerous line.  On one hand is a devoted woman and the key to every dream of success he’s ever had.  On the other is an obsession that will take it all away.  And just when you think you’ve got it all sized up and the pieces ready to put together, surprise…the picture has been changed.

I mentioned the motivations were bigger than the characters, and that’s not to say the characters aren’t well developed.  They are…but their needs, desires and lusts drive them all to do unhealthy things.  Chris’ situation is the most obvious, but what about Chloe, who seems a little too content to look the other way when some serious warning flags crop up?  Or Nola, who transforms from a bedroom fantasy to a nightmare when Chris finally looks at her without the eyes of idealism?

Meyers has never been better…his character is conflicted, but the fascinating aspect of Allen’s screenplay is that the moral conflict isn’t between right and wrong…there is no wrong.  It’s about what desire most needs to be fulfilled.  But Emily Mortimer is also superb as Chloe, a woman so loving and dutiful we almost forget she has her own designs.  And Scarlett Johansson has never been sexier or more alluring.  Believe me, that’s saying a LOT.

The movie begins with the image of a tennis ball going back and forth over a net.  As Chris explains, sometimes the ball hits the top of the net and bounces up, and it’s a matter of luck as to which side the ball comes down on.  The exposition ends with a shot of the ball hung in midair, waiting for fate to decide. 

Near the end of the movie, there’s another such shot.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it clearly reciprocates the idea expressed in the opening sequence.  One inch here, one inch there…sometimes it makes all the difference.  And sometimes the difference isn’t what we think it is.

Video ***1/2

This is a beautiful anamorphic transfer from Dreamworks.  It’s Woody’s first film made in England, and he captures the country just as beautifully as he usually does his native New York.  The Hewett’s estate and the apartment Chris and Chloe share, as well as the many art galleries and theatres, are marvelous sets, richly decorated and superbly photographed.  The images come across clean and clear throughout with great detail…only a tad bit of noticeable grain here and there.

Audio **

As always, Woody’s movies are in mono.  I’ve come to accept it to a certain extent, but I’m ready to make my first plea to Mr. Allen:  join the 21st century already.  With all the great opera music in this movie, a surround track would have been most welcome.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing except a DVD preview of Munich.

Summary:

Match Point is as brilliant as they come, and it only could have come from the mind of Woody Allen.  Masterfully written, directed and acted, this is an enticing tale of desire, lust and greed, and how far we’ll go to feed those most human of emotions.

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