Match Point: Mr. Allen Goes to London


matchpointThe American critics were ecstatic. Finally, Woody Allen had delivered a film that not only was quite different from his early work, but also a near-masterpiece. But when Match Point opened in Britain, the critics were horrified. Not only was the story not particularly good, they argued, but Allen’s portrayal of London was ridiculous. Turning 70 that year, the nebbish director was still able to stir the pot a bit.

What’s different from other films by Woody Allen? First of all, he saw no reason to cast himself in any part and that’s quite unusual. Secondly, it’s basically a tragic thriller and only a couple of Allen’s previous films could arguably be described as thrillers. Thirdly, the film does not take place in and was not shot in New York, but London.

The story is familiar to anyone who has read “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has just been hired as a tennis coach at a posh club. He starts a friendship with one of his “subjects”, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the easy-going son of a wealthy businessman (Brian Cox). The Hewetts take to Chris even though he’s out of their league; after all, he does enjoy opera and the daughter, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), fancies him. Soon, they’re a couple and things start to roll. They get married, daddy buys them a wonderful apartment and Chris gets a cozy job in the business district; he turns out to have a knack for it and does well for himself. But passion comes in the way, something there is very little of in the friendly relationship between Chris and Chloe. Tom dated an American actress, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), for a while and Chris found himself attracted to her. When Tom broke up with Nola, she moved back to the States for a while. The day one might say things begin to go south for Chris is the day he suddenly runs into her in London. She has moved back and they decide to have a fling, an affair driven by sheer passion that turns into something serious. Eventually, Chris is going to have to make a decision that either way will change his life forever.

Reminiscent of Tom Ripley
Rhys Meyers is worth a look as a character bound to remind viewers of Tom Ripley; he makes Chris seem cold and detached, but he also gives us a hint at what kind of suffering he goes through in the end. We hardly sympathize with him, but Allen makes sure that the point of view is focused on Chris trying to escape the blame for his awful crimes, and that creates a lot of tension. An even better performance is delivered by Johansson as the down-on-her-luck actress who has Chris under her spell; only thing about her that doesn’t quite ring true is some of her lines that sound more like Allen than a twenty-something woman.

As for the portrayal of the Hewett family and the Metropolitan police that so annoyed British critics, there isn’t much I can add. It is not something that really affects my perception of the film (but then I am Swedish).

The story is in itself not that special. The best part of the film is the symbolism. The tennis ball that could go either way in the opening sequence… the ring in the second half of the film. Luck is the difference between heaven and hell.

Match Point 2005-U.S.-Britain. 124 min. Color. Produced by Letty Aronson, Lucy Darwin, Gareth Wiley. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Chris Wilton), Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice), Emily Mortimer (Chloe Hewett), Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton.

Trivia: Kate Winslet was allegedly considered for the part of Nola.

Last word: “The movie expresses my philosophy to a T. I’ve always been a huge believer in luck. I think that people hate to admit the enormous part that luck plays in life because it means that much of life is out of our control. You’re always running into people who say, ‘I make my own luck’. And hard work, of course, is important. But in the end you have to have a lot of luck, in your relationships, in your career, with your health, and a million different ways that render all the searching and hard work and practicing and praying and anything else you care to do to in some way influence your life – render it slightly meaningless. That’s always been a great philosophy of mine.” (Allen, Total Film)

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