Dir/scr: Woody Allen. US.2005. 124mins.
Match Point would seem to prove the theory that youcan't teach new tricks to old dogs. Quintessential New York filmmaker WoodyAllen may have relocated to London but his eternal preoccupations with love,death, broken hearts and guilty minds remain central to the story. However, MatchPoint does show signs of revived energy in Allen's flagging inspiration.
Reworking elements from CrimesAnd Misdemeanours, it is ostensibly a drama following a Tom Ripley-likefigure as he sells his soul for a life of comfort and privilege. It alsofeatures a lead actor who doesn't feel compelled to offer his impersonation of Allen,which is a blessing in itself, and there isn't a Gershwin tune on thesoundtrack.
Critical opinion will be dividedon how effectively Allen has managed the sea change and the film is overlongand uneven. It does have enough sophisticated pleasures and distinctiveness toshore up Allen's commercial appeal in his traditional European heartlandwithout suggesting a sudden reversal of financial fortunes in America.
The central theme of MelindaAnd Melinda was examining whether life was essentially tragic or comic. Theidea behind Match Point is to explore how significant a role luck canplay in an individual's fortunes. Chris Wilton (Rhys Meyers) is a former tennisprofessional who now works as an instructor at an elite English club. He isbefriended by his pupil Tom Hewett (Goode).
It is his entry to a worldof weekends in the country, boxes at the opera and affluence beyond his wildestdreams. Tom's father Alec (Cox) respects the fact that Chris has come fromhumble beginnings and made something of himself. Tom's sister Chloe (Mortimer)takes a shine to Chris and starts showing him around town. The family conspireto welcome him into their ranks and are vaguely sinister in the assumptionsthey make about what he will want from life.
Chris can see all the appealof an advantageous match with Chloe but he is more readily attracted to Tom'sfiancee Nola (Johansson), a struggling America actress. The question of whetherhe can let his head rule his heart becomes the key to an increasinglycomplicated future.
Drifting through the TateModern, the West End and fashionable Bond street stores, Match Point seems tohave merely substituted the landmarks of London for the familiar features ofNew York. Characters pop into Cartier rather than Tiffanys, head to the newLloyd Webber rather than a Sondheim and patronise the Royal Opera House ratherthan the Met.
British critics in particularmight take issue with Allen's depiction of an English social scene that seemsto owe more to the pages of Evelyn Waugh than the era of Tony Blair. This isstill a world in which a heartless social climber like Chris will study hisDostoevsky, have a passion for opera and casually drop a quote from Sophoclesin his conversation.
Although Allen fans willappreciate the wit of certain lines and situations this is not a typicalromantic comedy but a cocktail of Chekhov and Patricia Highsmith in which theplot becomes increasingly melodramatic as Chris's future becomes quiteliterally a matter of life and death. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has the impeccablemanners and charm of Chris to perfection. He remains a plausible and evensympathetic figure despite constant proof of his moral cowardice, ruthlessambition and heartless eye for the main chance.
Adopting the awkward gaitand gauche manner of a woman not overly burdened by self-esteem, Emily Mortimeris entirely believable as his innocent, guileless bride.
Allen's new muse ScarlettJohansson brings considerable charisma to the role of a blonde, voluptuousAmerican who can't help but falling into the traps that she can see looming infront of her. She makes the character much more feisty and complex than the femmefatale/tragic victim contours within which is it conceived.
The British cast generallyrespond well to Allen with Brian Cox showing a different side of his characteras the benevolent paterfamilias and James Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner making anengaging double-act as detectives examining a murder.
It was the murder mystery ofGosford Park that brought fellow American auteur Robert Altman toBritain and the mixture of a traditional, Agatha Christie-style story withAltman's piercing insight into human nature worked a treat.
The marriage between countryhouse upper crust drama and Allen's anguished soul isn't quite as felicitousalthough the film looks extremely handsome and is an improvement on recentAllen efforts like Hollywood Endings and Anything Else.
Prod cos: Jada Films, BBC Films, Thema Prods
Int'l sales: Hanway Films
Exec prod: Stephen Tenenbaum
Prods: Letty Aronson, GarethWiley, Lucy Darwin
Cine: Remi Adefarasin
Prod des: Jim Clay
Ed: Alisa Lepselter
Main cast: Scarlett Johansson,Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, PenelopeWilton, Ewen Bremner, James Nesbitt, Rupert Penry-Jones, Margaret Tyzack