Who would’ve thought Woody Allen would evolve into such a capable handler of suspense dramas? He proved it the first time in Crimes and Misdemeanors and he proves it again with the Dreiser-esque Match Point. The movie finds Allen stepping out of his Manhattan stomping grounds and into foreign territory, namely, contemporary London. The geography may be different but the social milieu is exactly the same: the white aristocracy.
Chris, a has-been tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) finds himself ushered into the giddily moneyed world of Tom, one of his tennis students. Before long, he’s engaged to Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and, with her influence, he’s climbing the corporate ladder at her father’s swish London company. Chris’s gravy train, though, is derailed by his own lust when he falls for a sultry American actress, Nola (Scarlett Johansson) who also happens to be Tom’s fiancée. Once the two get hot-and-heavy, Chris finds he’s in way over his head and that the implications of their affair endanger the rosy future he’s lucked himself into. What follows is a blow-by-blow of Chris’s attempts to silence Nola, to placate his own maternity-fixated wife and resume some semblance of a normal and upstanding life.
There’s no ground here that Allen hasn’t gone over before, but as a treatment of upper crust mores and, eventually, as a thriller, it’s compulsively watchable and generally well acted. What tires and troubles me, though, is Allen’s attitude towards women. Once Nola becomes a liability in Chris’s life, she degenerates into a hysterical bitch of the typically Allen-esque variety; even Johansson’s diction and delivery shifts from its seductive cooing to a shrill, hyper-articulate screeching, suspiciously akin to all of Allen’s fictional urbanized viragos. Likewise, Chloe (no accident that her name resembles “cloying”) is just a nagging shrew who latches onto her man and won’t let go. In Chris, Allen finds his moral doppelganger, but the morality here is simplistic. Chris cannot reconcile with where his actions lead him, but his inner conflicts amount to nothing more than the simplistic dualities of the sociopath. Allen seems content with simple conclusions and Match Point stays on that familiar and safe terrain throughout. What transcends the material, though, are the closely felt London settings, all beautifully filmed, and the ensemble of excellent performances. I’m no fan of the monotoned, glassy-eyed Johansson, but Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, and Rhys-Meyers are all effective. James Nesbitt and Ewen Bremmer steal the show as a pair of sharp, slightly buffoonish detectives hot on Chris’s trail…or are they? Their affable presence makes up for Allen’s shortfalls as a social critic and storyteller and help make Match Point Allen’s worthiest effort in ages.
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Cast: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, Matthew Goode