Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 27, 2006)
For the first time in years, 2005 found a Woody Allen flick largely praised by the critics. Allen has enjoyed a rather spotty record for quite a while, but Match Point changed that. It didn’t receive unanimous acclaim, but it created a real buzz.
Perhaps that’s because Match offers Allen’s first truly impressive movie in recent memory. Set in England, we meet former professional tennis player Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). He lacks the fire to become a star, so he retires and takes a gig as an instructor at a posh London club.
There Chris meets and befriends wealthy young Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) and his family. That group includes Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) as well as his American fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Tom’s family doesn’t much care for aspiring – but unsuccessful – actress Nola, but Chris clearly digs the sexy blonde.
On the other hand, Chloe develops a strong interest in Chris. Although his heart – and libido – lead him toward Nola, Chris’ desire for financial comfort shove him in the direction of Chloe. The movie follows this love triangle as Chris tries to decide between his heart and his head.
I must admit I don’t feel my synopsis sums up Match Point very well. My wrap-up makes the film sound like a sappy romance, but the truth differs from that impression. Match takes a radically darker tone than one may expect from my summary – or from Allen.
One definitely shouldn’t look forward to a typical Allen comedy. While Match boasts a few dryly funny moments, these are few and far between, as the flick largely stays with drama. This is atypical fare for Allen, even when compared with his other dramatic releases.
A few factors make Match stand out from other Allen flicks. For one, it doesn’t take place in Manhattan – or America, for that matter. I believe this occurred for cold financial reasons. Allen’s movies don’t bring in the crowds, so apparently he ran out of financing from American studios. The Brits were willing to foot the bill, though, so he headed across the pond.
This puts Allen outside of his usual element, and I see that as a very good thing. I grew tired of Allen’s fascination with people like him: liberal, arts-obsessed, hoity-toity New Yorkers. Since Allen sticks with the upper class, Match doesn’t stray too far from his comfort zone, and these characters shouldn’t be seen as true departures from the director’s usual personalities. Still, the shift to Brits allows definite differences to occur, and this change forces Allen to switch from his usual set of assumptions.
One other variation from the standard Woody MO comes from the absence of a doppelganger. Most Allen flicks either star Allen or features an actor who acts as a stand-in for him. That fact limits the breadth of each story since they need to accommodate his well-known idiosyncrasies.
Happily, the lack of Woody or a clone allows Match to breathe. It gets to concentrate on a main character who has nothing in common with the Woodman, so the director can dig into truly new personalities – at least for him. Chris is something different for an Allen production, and that means we find more than just the same old thing.
At this point it may appear that I like Match just because it’s an unusual effort for Allen. That’s not the case, as the movie offers pleasures beyond its uniqueness in the director’s filmography. It takes an unusual twist on the standard love triangle motif, and it certainly becomes much darker than expected. I don’t want to dig into the details since they’d become potential spoilers, but expect things to go down a chilling path.
All of this allows Match Point to turn into a notable release. With full, rich characters and a concise story, it presents Woody Allen’s best-realized movie in quite some time. This one stands out as memorable and impressive.