Woody Allen's newest film, Match Point, is quite possibly his most successful "serious" film to date. It bears hints of many of his past works - particularly Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and her Sisters, and Mighty Aphrodite - but this film is far, far more than the kind of antiseptic, backcatalogue poachery exhibited by Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this past summer. Match Point, although distinctly an Allen film, stands entirely on its own, untethered by the canon that came before it. Perhaps because Allen does not act in the film, perhaps because it doesn't take place in New York City, or perhaps because it simply has no trace of the all-too-familiar Woody Allen brand of comedy, but - whatever the case may be - this film defies comparison with its predecessors.
The movie follows the story of Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of Bend it Like Beckham fame), an Irish tennis player who quits the professional circuit, becomes an instructor at a posh health club in London, quickly befriends one of his pupils, and begins a startling ascent into London high society. The pupil, Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode), comes from a wealthy family who has a box at the Opera and, as chance would have it, "someone can't make it" for that evening's performance and, since Chris has mentioned an interest in opera over a post-lesson drink, Tom invites him to come along. Once there, Chris makes the acquaintance of the whole Hewitt family, including Tom's sister Chloë (Emily Mortimer). With a few more happy accidents here and there, Chris quickly elevates himself to a much higher rung on the socioeconomic ladder.
The film - and all of the publicity surrounding it - famously asserts that, more than anything, life is a game of chance, that it is more important to be lucky than to be talented and Chris's experience certainly does assert the significance of happenstance. After all, the entirety of his success is reliant on a series of coincidences starting with the open seat in the private box of the wealthy tennis student he meets that day. Nonetheless, there's more to Chris's life than luck, even if he doesn't want to believe it.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is fantastic as Chris, portraying a fish out of water who has willed his fins into the shape of arms and legs and forced his gills to breathe air. His performance - the character's, not the actor's - as an erudite, cultured young man who defies his low birth to rise to the level that his intellect demands somehow doesn't ring true. Like the film's scratchy, unmastered opera soundtrack that sounds more like an old record player than the actual aria it's playing, Chris comes off as not the real thing, but a very well-studied copy. Look for his reading material. Listen for the accent that would seem apparent from all of the times that Tom addresses him as "Irish," but simply isn't there. There is something else at play here other than luck, something over which both Chris and the film itself cast a veil of obscurity: trained and focused ambition, not hard work, but the actual overwhelming desire to achieve success, no matter the obstacles encountered.