Woody Allen has often talked of the role of luck in determining our fortunes in life. He devotes his latest movie Match Point to the exploration of this notion, while revisiting topics like justice, fidelity and guilt, all previously touched upon in movies like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and her Sisters.
The movie’s main protagonist, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), experiences an extraordinary run of luck after settling in London. While coaching at an exclusive tennis school he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a wealthy socialite, who invites him to a night at the opera. Chris is subsequently introduced to Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and parents (Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton). He is soon accepted into the family and, after marrying Chloe, finds himself with an important role in the family business and a swanky apartment overlooking the Thames.
Chris also meets Tom’s fiancé, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful, but tempestuous, actress, with whom he is immediately infatuated. After some initial resistance, Nola succumbs to his advances, and they enter into a passionate though ultimately doomed relationship.
Despite the film’s study of typical Woody Allen themes, it is perhaps the most uncharacteristic of his movies. It is the first Allen film to be shot outside New York for many, many years. It is a ‘straight’ drama, although very different to his earlier ‘Bergmanesque’ efforts like Interiors, September and Another Woman. And it does not contain the usual cast of Allen intellectuals and their associated preoccupations (although the characters do like the opera, read Dostoyevsky, and visit the Tate Modern). The movie also contains an unexpected dose of sex and violence. These elements give the film a ‘freshness’ lacking in Allen’s recent movies.
Rhys Meyers is particularly good as the creepy, manipulative Chris Wilton, and the supporting cast, especially Emily Mortimer, is excellent. I did, however, wonder about Scarlett Johansson’s performance. While she did project the requisite smouldering sensuality early in the movie, her work in the later scenes, where Nola is required to behave with a certain amount of hysteria and anger, did not ‘ring true’, and appeared forced and awkward.
The ‘twist’ at the end of the movie is nicely done, and will not disappoint those who find a ‘Hollywood ending’ hard to swallow. However, there is an odd switch in perspective during these last scenes that I found quite jarring. Up to this point we have seen everything through Chris Wilton’s eyes. Suddenly we are privy to the thoughts and conversations of the investigating police. Given the subsequent developments, one can see why this change of perspective might have been necessary. I can’t help wonder if there might have been a better way of doing it.
Match Point is an effective, entertaining little drama that satisfies and stimulates, although long-time Allen fans might feel he did better with similar material in 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. There is no doubt that the relocation to London has invigorated Woody Allen’s filmmaking and, after several disappointing efforts, it’s nice to see the director pleasing both the critics and cinemagoers.
You might come away from Match Point wishing you were just a little luckier, but you won’t wish you were quite as lucky as Chris Wilton.