DreamWorks // 2006 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 22nd, 2006
"The man who said 'I'd rather be lucky than good' saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control." -- Chris
While most suspense thrillers seem to revolve around luck, Woody Allen's Match Point may be the first such movie that revolves around it very consciously -- if you don't count the short-lived TV show Strange Luck.
You see a lot of chance events in this movie. Are they good luck or bad luck? For whom? Discuss...
Tennis pro Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mission: Impossible III) is starting a job at an exclusive club in London. He gets a lucky break when his first pupil, Tom Hewitt, offers him a spare ticket to the opera and invites him to tag along with his family. Soon, Chris is visiting the Hewitts' country manor and giving Tom's sister, the awkward Chloe (Emily Mortimer, The Pink Panther), tips on tennis.
"You have a very unique style," he tells her.
"Yeah, it's called clumsy," she answers.
At the manor he meets -- and is immediately enchanted by -- aspiring actress Nola (Scarlett Johanssen, Lost in Translation) -- who challenges him saucily to a game of table tennis ("Would you like to play for a thousand pounds a game?" she asks). As it turns out, she's Tom's fiancée and thus out of play. It's hard to tell whether this is bad luck or good luck, since we've already seen that she could get expensive.
When Chris next meets Nola, he ends up joining her for a drink after she has a rough audition. Nola reflects on Chris's remarkable luck, pointing to the fortuitous help Chloe's dad has given Chris to find a job in the business world.
"You are being groomed," she tells him. "You are going to do very well for yourself, unless you blow it."
"How am I going to blow it?" he asks.
"By making a pass at me," Nola says, warning him of her effect on men. The seductress comes with a warning label. How lucky.
Nola is not as lucky as Chris when it comes to winning over the Hewitts. Mrs. Hewitt constantly belittles Nola's her acting ambitions and on one occasion infuriates her so much that she goes wandering into a rainstorm. Luckily (maybe?), Chris spots her and heads out to comfort her. He kisses her and she responds -- by making love to him in a field.
When they meet again, Nola just wants to forget it. "Passions are passions, but we're already involved with other people," she tells Chris. So Chris marries Chloe, but his infatuation with Nola isn't over. Fortunately, she breaks up with Tom and leaves the country, allowing Chris to concentrate on winning over his colleagues at the office and trying, unsuccessfully, to father a baby for Chloe. Then one day Chloe and Chris run into Nola at the Tate Gallery. She has returned to London after a failed job hunt in the States.
Nola's still interested in Chris -- and she's still a passionate lover. Soon, Chris may find out that his luck has run out.
I can't tell you much more about the events that follow, because it would ruin what writer-director Woody Allen has done. What I can say is that Allen does manage to subvert your expectations in a surprise twist at the end while staying true to his thesis, set up in the opening narration that begins this review. Match Point moves slowly but surely toward an explosion that seems inevitable, then picks up steam as it progresses to what seems like an equally inevitable conclusion. Watch out, however, for a key bit of misdirection.
Allen devotes the first half of Match Point to building the chains of mundane life that constrain Chris, punctuated only by encounters with Nola. These scenes set up Chris's motivations for the affair to follow, contrasting the passion and spontaneity of his encounter in the field with Nola with the purposeful lovemaking he experiences with Chloe, whose only wish is to bear three children while she's still young. Chris is a passive character with a slight stutter. He's polite, but shows little interest in anything. His later emotions are surprising, but Jonathan Rhys Meyers is convincing as the seemingly ordinary man who suddenly finds himself driven by passion down a road he shouldn't take. The dialogue in the movie is naturalistic, full of pauses and "ums," and he's got more than his share, since the dialogue helps to build his character and the world he lives in.
The second half, in which Chris has the passionate affair with Nola and grows to understand its consequences, is something else. While still methodical rather than tense, the movie speeds up its pace to reflect Chris's increasingly frantic emotions. It's successful at conveying tension and the dangers that fuel Chris's amoral decisions.
Match Point shows its action from Chris's perspective. While you get good performances from Emily Mortimer and Scarlett Johanssen, you see little of their motivations and personalities. Mortimer's Chloe is clumsy and sweet, while Johanssen's Nola is sultry. Nola is also supposed to be passionate, but because it's seen mainly in the way her clothes get ripped during romantic encounters, Nola fails to become a full-fledged character. These gaps appear intentional, since they highlight Chris's self-absorption and heighten the shock of the final twists, but the pregnancy-obsessed Chloe and the seductive Nola remain less-than-believable caricatures.
Like the dialogue, the look of the film is largely naturalistic, relying heavily on natural light. The occasional washed-out effect that comes with natural light left me with the sense of a washed-out life, especially when I noticed a lot of drab yellows and other neutral colors in the sets. The sound, with a score heavy on opera, is decent without being an attention grabber. Since many of the characters love opera, a sign of Allen's methodical scripting, the music usually sounds like the music they'd listen to on CD even when it's part of the score rather than source music.
There are no extras here. It appears that Dreamworks was expecting renters rather than buyers. If you really want to own Match Point, wait for a more elaborate release later.
While the movie does build to a suspenseful second half, the mundane elements of the first half are sometimes tedious. If you're not predisposed to twisty thrillers, you'd say "dull" instead. Allen's cold plotting holds interest, but he goes light on the trademark funny quips and character moments that he's known for. Although a few more Allen-style interruptions might have made the ending more jarring, rather than less so, they might have made the first half of the picture more enjoyable.
With Match Point, Woody Allen scores some points by moving beyond his usual neurosis-laced comedy into the thriller genre. Allen knows what you're expecting -- another Dial M for Murder -- and gives you enough to make you think you've figured this one out, even making his central character a tennis pro dependent on his wealthy wife, as Alfred Hitchcock did. Once he gets his ball rolling, though, Allen shows that he knows enough to lob it to the other side of the court.
Not guilty. If you rent this one, you'll have made a lucky choice, but purchasers will likely find that once they've seen the twist, Match Point only gathers dust on a shelf. So rent -- unless, of course, you've been really lucky and spotted this one in the bargain bin.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R