Match Point (2005)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Matthew Goode, Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer
Plot:  At a turning point in his life, a former tennis pro falls for a femme-fatal type who happens to be dating his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law.

Genre:  Drama / Romance / Thriller
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.
Runtime:  124min
Rating:  NC16 for some sexuality.

The first of his ‘unofficial’ London trilogy, Woody Allen’s Match Point is later followed by Scoop (2006) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007), both of which are unrelated to Match Point or to one another other than that they are set in Britain’s capital. 

Critically-acclaimed and considered to be the director’s best in a long while, Match Point does not feel like a traditional Allen picture (e.g. the use of British accents, and the lack of the director’s ‘voice’).  Gone also are the witty, neurotic lines of humor and its tragicomic characters.

The 1970s and 1980s have seen the Oscar-winning writer-director make one excellent film after another.  But a 1990s and early 2000s ‘slump’ sees him make only an occasional decent picture amid average ones.  

Match Point is the result of the American filmmaking legend looking into the mirror and realizing a change of formula is essential to keep up with the times.  Allen reinvents himself in a surprisingly assured take on the low-key crime-thriller genre camouflaged by a dominant romantic drama that deals with marriage, extramarital affairs, love and lust.

The film consists of three principal characters: Chris, Chloe, and Nola.  Chris, a hardworking but poor tennis instructor, marries Chloe and is set up for life because his father-in-law is wealthy and has given him a key corporate position in his company. 

However, Chris’ true passion lies with Nola, his brother-in-law’s sensuous and insecure fiancĂ©e who is struggling as an actress.  As Chris gets deeper into his affair with Nola, the latter becomes unpredictable and overpowering, and later becomes a source of tension and frustration for Chris who turns increasingly paranoid to the thought of being exposed.

Match Point features sharp analytical writing which conveys very realistically the emotional and psychological states of mind of each major character, especially that of Chris and Nola. The most affecting display comes from Scarlett Johansson whose tortured performance as Nola earns her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. 

At the beginning, Allen theorizes that when the tennis ball hits the top of the net, with a bit of luck it will drop on your opponent’s side and you win. A similar scenario is further explored during the final quarter of the film where luck plays a huge role in determining the fates of people.

In an unexpected (and chilling) turn of events near the finale, Allen shows us his skill in misdirection.  Up to that point, we are led to believe that we know how the film is going to end, but the old master still has some tricks up his sleeves.  His near-brilliant sleigh of hand elevates Match Point to something more than just a decent drama. 

There are some situational flaws though, which on hindsight could have embarrassed Allen because if the viewer is discerning enough, he or she could see that there are loopholes in the execution of that misdirection sequence.  Fortunately for Allen, the ball lands away from him.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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