Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Brian Cox, Emily Mortimer
Released: 2005 / Genre: Drama / Country: UK/USA / IMDB
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Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Chris Wilton contaminates the screen in Woody Allen’s Match Point with the hideous manifestation of greed and self-loathing. At times it’s like watching the over-privileged middle-classes spitting on poor-peasant viewers who happened, accidentally and clearly unfortunately, to sit within saliva-propelling distance. Yet, underneath the money and comfortable lifestyles, there’s a part of you who wants to be Chris Wilton. Here’s a guy, as distasteful as they come, who has it all, wants more and gets it, and avoids the consequences of his actions. Isn’t there something in that that we all want? It harks back to Allen’s interest in lust and infatuation – the fine line between it and love – and its relationship with good luck and bad luck. Someone can lust after several sexual partners and the family life at home concurrently, but its destructiveness can define that line between what you really care about and what you simply obsess after through jealousy and greed-fuelled self-fulfilment. But, isn’t the real thrill about this, and perhaps Allen’s point by the end: are you lucky enough to get away with it?
I’ve got to give Woody Allen credit for trying something outside his comfort zone – both theatrically and personally. Match Point sees the director play with genre convention and manufacture a few more plot surprises than we usually see from him, while filming the movie on-location in London, away from his native America and his cherished New York City. In retrospect, anybody new to the talented writer-director, who brought the world the wonderful Manhattan and Annie Hall, might not know just how diverse Allen’s work is. Indeed, anybody who remembers his musical Everyone Says I Love You, his slapstick heroics of Sleeper, or his whimsical fantasy The Purple Rose Of Cairo, might think Match Point is straight-forward drama. But, Allen’s London-based film is unique in its thematic direction. Here, unlike the others, where after the first ten minutes the audience knew Allen’s basic tone, Match Point flicks a switch halfway through turning its neurotic flirtations and jealous-lusting into dark-drama hinged on one man’s basic need to be everything to everyone all the time.
I’d liken it to 2004’s Closer – both in terms of the London locale and themes of infatuation and obsession – but, just like Mike Nichol’s film, we’re provided characters so distasteful and self-absorbed it becomes difficult to sympathise with them. While Match Point throws its audience for a loop in the last twenty minutes, the second half of the film feels like a different movie. The first half is much too slowly paced (Allen’s English dialogue having its basis on stereotype doesn’t help), and while it comes together more in the final twenty minutes, you’re desperately trying to remember what happened in the hour when you subconsciously switched off. The ending also feels contrived and its sudden jump in pace is distracting in comparison with the laboured, pedestrian first act.
Allen is restrained throughout and while his idea of neurotic self-loathing and a passion for those things seemingly beyond reach clearly comes from experience and deep-rooted empathy, his film lacks the love it needed to temper the outward lusting. Wilton’s sexual attraction to the beautiful Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) is the hot and sweaty counterpoint to the cold and mechanical life he has with his wife. But, Allen doesn’t fully establish Wilton’s ability to love and this affects the impact of the finale.
Match Point is an interesting, if infuriating, Woody Allen film. Its uneven tone and humourless, unlikable characters make it one of his less agreeable efforts.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews here