Match Point

It’s not just the much-heralded exile in London and the sympathetic bosom of the BBC that marks Woody Allen’s attractive new drama out from the couple of dozen or so films he has made in his native New York. Match Point is a whiplash drama featuring a cast of mainly British and Irish actors, a couple of torrid sex scenes, gritty violence and, most surprising of all, after a run of six apathetic duds, it’s really very good.

Retired Irish tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is working as a backhand coach in a private club when he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). Wealthy, well-connected Tom has a pretty, vacant sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris, seeing his chance, quickly marries her, much to the delight of family patriarch Alec (Brian Cox), who gives Chris a job in one of his companies. The juicy apple in this rarefied Eden is Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), a neurotic American actress who might be out of work, but has Tom as a rich and generous boyfriend. Before long it’s game set and match for Chris and Nola, with their affair forming a devastating love triangle that has violent consequences. From there on, Allen pulls the strings on his story with the finesse and aplomb of a master puppeteer, so if you think you know where all this is heading, think again.

Johansson and Rhys-Meyers are well cast as the sexy, smooth-skinned lovers, the desperate social climber Chris, constantly checking his watch with more than a touch of Talented Mr. Ripley-style menace, and Johansson gobbling up her part as a seductive, vindictive temptress with relish. Rhys-Meyers has never been better (in that previously he’s never been any good at all) but the film lives or dies by his lethal, oily Chris; it’s his story, and he plays it brilliantly. Around this glamorous pair there’s excellent support from Brian Cox, James Nesbit and Matthew Goode in particular. A minor niggle being Emily Mortimer’s Chloe, who is a bit too eager and unquestioning to fully convince as a woman immersed in snooty, fast-moving London society.

But as Allen’s beautifully poised story hurtles towards a reckoning, the director nods towards Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment, Dreiser’s A Place in the Sun and his own Crimes and Misdemeanours in postponing or abandoning as obsolete the justice Chris so richly deserves. As a story about the randomness of life and the role of luck, both good and bad, Match Point is an enjoyably dyspeptic meditation on just how rotten it can all turn out, and how unfair and uncaring the universe is. Best of all, Match Point is a good story, well told. It’s Allen’s best in yonks and a skidding u-turn on the road to nowhere the now 70 year old director seemed himself fated to travel.

2 comments:

Sinéad said...

Hmmm, I liked it at the start and then it began to really irritate me.

Anonymous said...

Dreiser's novel is An American Tragedy; the movie based on it is A Place in the Sun.