Review: Match Point

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?

match point, woody allen, film, 2005,

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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 StephensSee all reviews here

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. paulwjm Reply

    Enjoyed this one myself – believe it or not I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a Woody Allen film before so this one has piqued my interest and I wouldn’t mind checking out others. Perhaps the fact that I’m not well versed in the director’s work helped enhance my taste for this one by eliminating preconceptions? I rented Match Point but I think I’ll probably pick it up on Blu-ray when it appears.

  2. Adrian Turner Reply

    I saw this on BBC2 a few weeks ago – the first Woody picture I’ve seen in many years – and I was delighted and reassured by how good it was. It somehow made these rather pathetic people intensely interesting and sympathetic. What did it for me, though, was opening of the tennis ball hitting the net – which way will it fall? – and the way that was echoed at the end by the wedding ring flung into the river and hitting the embankment wall – which way will it fall? Not only is that masterly invention but a brilliant metaphor for the whole picture and, indeed, life itself. I’ll be buying this on DVD to savour again.

  3. Rodney Reply

    I managed to catch this one in cinemas, and I didn’t like it. Perhaps it was the nasty characters in it that put me off. I agree with your comment about it being a lot like Closer: characters we don’t really like. I don’t understand why film-makers think it’s cool to give us a film with assholes as central characters, it just alienates the audience (well, it alienates ME as a viewer)… and people wonder why I didn’t like There Will Be Blood for exactly the same reason.

    Great review, though Dan, of a complicated film to enjoy!

  4. CMrok93 Reply

    One of my favorites from Allen. I was so surprised with what he did with this story, and its characters. This easily could have been played around with, to where it would just be a incoherent story about god knows what. Instead Allen puts his trade-marks in there, as well as using a new type of story-telling for himself.

  5. DEZMOND Reply

    I’m someone who can’t stand Allen, so I was more than shocked to discover that this one was directed by him a few years ago, since I really liked and enjoyed the film. No wonder I liked it when it has two amazing and beloved actors of mine – Rhys Meyers and Matthew Goode. Love them both heaps!
    Nice reviews, Dan!

  6. Aurora Reply

    Great review. But I really enjoyed this film for all the reasons you state it is unlikeable. BECAUSE it is unlikeable. Kudos to Allen, as you say, for going outside his comfort zone, or maybe for venturing out of ours. Good, believable performances. Fortunate, unfortunate characters. Good film.

    Best,

    Aurora

  7. Raghav Modi Reply

    I actually couldn’t sit through it. Like you said the first half is slow and unfortunately I never made it to the second half. In my defense it was on TV and switching the channel was easy 😉 Although the rating is poor, by you, I might still give it another shot after reading the review.

  8. TheVern Reply

    “Match Point” and “Annie Hall” are my favorite Woody Allen films of all time. It’s the first time I have seen the director do a lurid sexually driven thriller, and it was really good. I didn’t like the main character but that’s ok because he was at least interesting to watch. The love scenes between Scarlet Johanssen and Jonathan Reys Meyrs were extremely hot and their wasn’t any nudity. That is a sign of a great director imo. When people say I hate Woody Allen movies, I usually show them this and “Midnight in Paris”.

    Nice review

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