MATCH POINT

(2005)
With Jonathan Rhys Myers, Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johansson
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Reviewed by JB

     The universe is random, morality is meaningless, and opera and Russian novels are your best entertainment.  Yep, it must be another Woody Allen movie.

     Although it received overall good reviews, MATCH POINT has been detrimentally compared to CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, a film I consider Allen's dramatic masterpiece.  It is true that MATCH POINT revisits themes and even plot points of that earlier film, but if you are going to borrow from yourself, why not borrow from your best?

     As in CRIMES, MATCH POINT tells the tale of a man trapped between his peaceful and successful domestic life and his extra-curricular activities with another woman, played by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson. Jonathan Rhys Myers plays an ex-tennis pro turned instructor who marries into a wealthy British family and winds up lusting after his brother-in-law's girlfriend. Myers is one of Allen's best land subtlest leading men in years.  He is deceivingly lackluster in the film's opening scenes, but as each decision his character makes leads further into a tangled web of deceit, Myers reveals himself to be an actor of much subtlety.  The film's most chilling moment is a simple closeup of his face at the moment he realizes the solution to his problem.  Barely registering a hint of emotion, his expression still tells us all we need to know.

How do you solve a problem like Johansson?    Would that I could say the same about Scarlett Johansson.  I've liked her since GHOST WORLD and found her sweetly engaging in LOST IN TRANSLATION, but I am beginning to wonder if there is not much more to the "Scarlett" phenomenon than her Nordic good looks and eye-popping bust line.  I've always sensed something in her performances that holds the promise of much better things to come, and I just wish she would show me more - and I mean that in a nice way.  Others in the cast are all more impressive, especially Emily Mortimer as the tennis instructor's sunny, optimistic  wife.  Lovely as she may be, Mortimer will never be voted Sexiest Woman of the Year or be asked to host Saturday Night Live but she is the far superior actress.

     The film's strongest point just may be Allen's filmmaking talents.  Movie addict that he is, Allen has not only borrowed from himself, but from A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE GODFATHER films and several Hitchcock and noir thrillers.  Yet by removing all of the usual Allen humor, and transplanting the story's original locale of Long Island to London, he has managed to make a quintessential "Woody Allen" film, one that displays his full talents as a director.  Of course, this being an Allen film, the dialogue is often unrealistic, and the characters always happen to share Allen's interests in life; Allen characters rarely do any light reading or see a movie anywhere but in a revival house or art film theater.  But that aside, Allen deftly builds his story detail by detail, moving it inescapably toward its gripping conclusion, with no wasted time on side trips or subplots, and even the inevitable philosophical discussions are worked into the script with more care than usual.  It is rare that an individual shot in a Woody Allen film startles you, but there is one such shot late in the film that hearkens back to the opening scene in which a a struck tennis ball hits the top of the net.  This shot, which I do not wish to spoil by describing it, not only makes you want to applaud Allen for his cleverness, but also sets up the film's conclusion in a way that will surprise you.

     No matter how one may feel about Woody Allen, he must still be commended for giving us one or two little films each year that are not CGI-fests or political diatribes disguised as thrillers and comedies. MATCH POINT is his best film in quite some time, and like the object of his most recent inappropriate crush, the good Ms. Johansson, it just may hold the promise of still better things to come. 4 - JB

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