Director : Woody Allen
Screenplay : Woody Allen
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Chris Wilton), Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice), Emily Mortimer (Chloe Hewett Wilton), Matthew Goode (Tom Hewett), Brian Cox (Alec Hewett), Penelope Wilton (Eleanor Hewett), Ewen Bremner (Inspector Dowd), James Nesbitt (Detective Banner)
With his latest film Match Point, Woody Allen has not gotten away from his increasing tendency to repeat himself -- in fact, the majority of the plot and many of the emotions, though not the final message, are lifted directly from his 1989 masterpiece Crimes and Misdemeanors -- but his filmmaking has become more interesting and he has developed a more effective means of ripping himself off. Starting as a society drama but morphing ever so slowly and methodically into a calculated thriller of great suspense, Match Point contains enough surprises to keep it interesting and enough emotional and existential hand-wringing to make it worth talking about once the credits have rolled.
Perhaps to shake up his own style, Allen sets the film in London, a first for him. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as Chris Wilton, a boyishly handsome and slyly ambitious former professional tennis player who takes a job as a pro at an exclusive club. There he meets Matthew Goode (Tom Hewett), a young man into whose extremely wealthy family Chris falls, especially after Matthew’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), develops an eye for him. Unfortunately, Chris’s eye is draw to Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), Matthew’s American fiancé who is struggling to make ends meet as an actress.
Before we even see Nola, we hear her voice say, “So, who’s my next victim?,” which seems to establish her as the prototypical femme fatale, just waiting to draw another man into her web of deceit. Johansson plays up the role, pouting her bee-stung lips and putting on an air of combined sensuality and vulnerability that seems too perfect not to be an act. Chris is entranced, and even though he marries Chloe and is attempting to have a child with her, he can’t keep himself away from Nola.
Infidelity is a key motif in Allen’s films, and more often than not it leads to dire consequences for his characters (funny, but no one ever seems to accuse Allen of being a reactionary moralist). Spoiler alert ahead: If you’ve seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, you’ll know where the plot begins to turn once Chris engages in a protracted affair with Nola. Nola’s increasing desire for him and him only threatens the comfortable, unchallenging life Chris has built with Chloe, much of which is anchored by her father’s money. To deal with the situation, Chris hatches an awful plan, one that is brutal and disgusting, but in his mind is the only way to dig himself out.
The question of whether or not he gets away with it, a question on which much of the film’s suspense hinges, is ultimately less important to Allen than the effect Chris’s actions have on him. Will he, like Martin Landau’s character in Crimes and Misdemeanors, vindicate himself through time, or will he be destroyed by his own treachery? The haunting final shot of Match Point, one of the most effective in any of Allen’s recent films, provides a possible, though not necessarily absolute, answer.
The fact that Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors are so similar in terms of their plots suggests that Allen is in a process of revisiting some of his previous works and rethinking his themes. Both films are stark morality plays, but the earlier work drained away all hope that there is justice in the world, instead suggesting that not only can people get away with crimes, but they can flourish. It suggested that people were capable of anything, particularly banishing from their minds the horrors of what they had done to others.
To my mind, the last shot of Match Point suggests something entirely different. It points instead to the ineffable damage crimes against another does to one’s soul. Chris may have been successful in his plan to protect himself and the life he has built for himself, but there is no hint whatsoever that he will ever be the same.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 DreamWorks Pictures