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Movie Review: Match Point

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Match Point is the Woody Allen film I'd been waiting years for. Not his best since Annie Hall, but since Crimes and Misdemeanors his films have consisted largely of screwball romantic comedies and crime capers (Mighty Aphrodite, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Manhattan Murder Mystery) that while decent on their own, are ultimately replaceable and muddled with one another, peopled by interchangeable characters, situations, and dialogue.

Allen's career has been a long struggle between comedy and tragedy — he's fascinated by both and many of his films alternate between the two (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Melinda and Melinda), almost self-conciously afraid that a too somber film will scare people away, and a too funny one will bring the wrong people back for more. So with Match Point, it's refreshing to see Allen do away with much of the comedic meandering and give drama to us straight.

Match Point is set in London where Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a tennis instructor, falls in favor with a well-off London family. Soon engaged to the nice and sweet Chloe (Emily Mortimer), he's handed a cushy office job with all the perks. His brother-in-law is dating a failed American actress (Scarlett Johansson) with whom Chris stupidly initiates an affair. Events reach a breaking point where Chris must choose between leaving his wife and all the trappings of the upper-class by "doing the right thing."

Along the way there are heavy ruminations on the nature of luck, in that the typical belief systems most people ascribe to are God, fate, and faith in your own ability to create and control your life. In the absence of the three, there is luck, in that things just happen and whether you benefit or lose is ultimately a matter of chance. Allen suggests there can be key moments in our lives that rely far more on luck than we would like to believe.

Even through the example in this film, however, I tend to disagree. Chris deliberately initiates his affair with Nola and avoids confessing to his wife even when given the chance. At no point did I think a person in his situation would be forced to take a gun into their hands against their own will. So to say luck had anything to do with this situation being created is mostly wrong. What ultimately proves the "luck" factor is whether or Chris gets caught, and that is better left to a viewing of the film.

Another theme that Allen seems to wonder about is a quirk of our human condition in that people never seem satisfied with what they get, and always want something just beyond  reach. The last concept thrown into the mix seems to be about the distance between married couples, where Chris commits an infidelity in an effort to see if he gets caught. If he doesn't, well, that must mean that his wife doesn't know him as well as she is supposed to, as if it's her responsibility to keep him in line. All this infidelity plays out against a backdrop of extreme wealth and privelege.

There's a Freudian interpretation to the proceedings, in that Chris must choose between a Madonna and a whore, implying that he cannot proceed forward to a domestic, married life without first eliminating his lustful desires. This situation is basely symbolized by whom he's able to impregnate. It's a common male dilemma, in that many men's fear of marriage is based in the idea they will be shackled with adult responsibilities, locked in a domestic setting, and put on the clock to produce children. Chris literally faces this situation; notice how he struggles with his new claustrophobic work duties, fearing to be late one minute, then ignoring work with a fling at Nola's.

Allen makes some masterful directorial choices, most notably his careful framing of events. I love one scene where Nola and Chris argue, and during some pointed questioning the evasive Chris has his head out of the frame. Another perfect moment comes when Chris and his wife run into Nola in a museum, and Nola's back divides the frame between Chris on the right and his wife. Lastly, I'm certain there was some thought put into the nature of the artwork hanging on the walls during some key moments: when Chris is pointedly asked, "Are you having an affair?" he stands next to a painting of a black chicken.

I do have some minor complaints about the film, one being that the Martin Landau storyline in Crimes and Misdemeanors could essentially be seen as a rough draft of many moments in Match Point, right down to the unanswered phone call and crazy-lover-telling-the-wife routine. That's not to say Match Point is a remake, but it takes a bit of the freshness off the plot.

Second, it's a bit sad that Chris is so walled-off from the people around him that we don't get a palpable sense of guilt or deliberation, other than the facial tics and worry on his face. He only has one real conversation where he tries to justify his actions and that's to nobody of consequence, and so the confession has little weight. The end result is that we can't believe this is a situation of a normal person pushed to extreme situations by cirumstance (as in Crimes in Misdemeanors).

In Match Point, the feeling is that Chris is a bit of a sociopath from the very beginning, and people might get the impression that the tale is merely a warning not to marry quickly to shifty, quiet blokes from poor backgrounds, which I'm not sure is what Allen intended. In short, Chris is not a symapthetic character, and as such the ending is almost a convoluted argument against the death penalty, in that having made his choice, he's stuck in a glass prison of his own creation.

At the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Judah (Martin Landau) approaches Woody Allen with the plot to a murder mystery movie. It seems Woody Allen has finally made Judah's film.

 

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Woody Allen

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