Friday, June 02, 2006

Movie Review: "Match Point"

Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton and Brian Cox
Directed by Woody Allen

Writer-director Woody Allen has been making movies for so long now at such a consistent clip (generally about one per year), that audiences tend to take him for granted. In recent years, the general consensus of his newer movies are that they are perfectly watchable, but very unexceptional.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise (although it really shouldn’t) that Allen still has the ability to deliver a standout movie that actually marks a bit of a departure for the 70-year-old filmmaker. Not only is Allen not in “Match Point,” but there isn’t even a Woody-like character to be found. Then again, there are no laughs to be had in this beautifully shot and well-crafted drama that delves into passion, deception and desire.

Having such a distinction is one manner in which the movie differentiates itself from his 1989 film with similar themes, “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Another way is that “Match Point” is set outside of Allen’s usual New York backdrop – landing smack dab on the other side of the pond in London. Still, Allen’s always demonstrated a knack for showing off classic cities and he, along with cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, capture wonderful shots of London, largely seen through the eyes of the film’s central figure, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

As a good, but not great former tennis pro, Chris is restlessly teaching the sport at a London country club as the film opens. But he soon has the luck of teaching Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the son of a very well off family headed by parents Alan and Eleanor (Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton). Tom invites Chris to an opera, where he meets an almost instantly smitten Chloe (Emily Mortimer), the Hewett’s lovely and spoiled daughter.

It might not quite be love at first sight for both of them, but Tom certainly knows a good thing when he sees it. So he quickly gains in trust and favor in the family, eventually being hired into one of the father’s companies. Around the same time, he meets Tom’s fiancĂ©e, struggling American actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), who should come equipped with a warning sign. A smoker, drinker and heavy flirter, Lola has trouble written all over her. Yet, Chris is almost irresistibly attracted to her, even as he is fully aware of the risks attached.

Those risks only become greater after Chris marries Chloe, while Nola, never a favorite with Eleanor, splits up with Tom. Now she is available while Chris is decidedly not. He knows that their relationship has no real foreseeable future. After all, neither of them have any money or any real solid prospects away from the Hewett family. So for Chris, the question becomes, is the risk worth it?

Meyers does a very good job at capturing the internal conflict of his character, a generally affable and good-natured person caught in a struggle between his head and his heart. His character’s decisions basically determine the direction of the film, particularly in the third act, which reveals itself to be a rather effective thriller by that point.

Near the beginning of the movie, Tom remarks that he’s rather be lucky than be good. Of course, being lucky doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being happy. By film’s end, one has to wonder if Tom can believe the same thing.

Grade: B+
(Rated R for some sexuality.)

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