Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a former tennis pro, takes a job at an exclusive club in London, teaching the well-to-do. There, he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the son of a rich businessman and they strike up a friendship. Tom learns of Chris' love for opera and offers him an extra ticket for the next show allowing Chris to meet the entire Hewett family; sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, "Dear Frankie"), "Poppa" Alec (Brian Cox) and mother (Penelope Wilton, "Pride and Prejudice"). Chloe and Chris plan a date and soon become inseparable leading her to ask Poppa to find a position for Chris in one of his companies. Alec wholeheartedly agrees and Chris is soon the head of a division, spending weekends at the Hewett country estate and shagging Chloe on his sleeper sofa. Then, Chris meets Nola (Scarlet Johannson), Tom's American fiance. They flirt and begin an affair. Chris and Chloe are soon married and move into a fantastic loft on the South Bank. But as Chris becomes more and more comfortable in his life with Chloe, and her father's money, his relationship with Nola spins out of control, threatening his newfound security.
This is just a small portion of the plot for the new film "Match Point". I remember clearly the first time I saw the trailer and the reaction when it was revealed as a Woody Allen film. There were a couple of audible "whoa"s in the audience. Everything in the trailer was different from anything we had ever seen in an Allen film before; hints of a torrid love affair, the predominantly British cast and setting, the dramatic overtones with little evidence of comedy, hints at possible violence. In short, it surprised everyone. It surprised me. After almost a decade of slogging through mediocre films like "Small Time Crooks" and truly bad, bad films like "Curse of the Jade Scorpion", "Melinda and Melinda" (shudder!), and "Anything Else" (double shudder!!), my patience as a die hard Woody Allen fan was sorely tested. The trailer peaked my curiosity. Is it possible? Could he have made another great film? Something so different from his previous works to respark his career?
"Match Point" is a very good film, easily Allen's best in a decade. But it falls short of his classics, films like "Annie Hall", "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" for a few reasons.
One of the biggest surprises is that Allen would set a film anywhere other than his beloved New York. But the London setting works well for Allen's writing and directing style. His writing is a little unnatural at times; a large majority of the characters in his films speak as though they all attended an Ivy League college and consistently stand around talking about philosophy, opera and `making love'. I'm not saying this doesn't happen, but in his less successful films, it rings false. In his last great films, this worked because the people who spoke these lines were wealthy, educated and it was believable. He also balanced these storylines with the comedic antics of his character.
Another positive change Allen has begun to make is that he is casting other actors as leads in his films. Will Farrell, Kenneth Branagh, John Cusack and others have essentially played the "Woody Allen" role in some of his recent offerings. This is a step in the right direction, but in most of these cases, these younger actors are still speaking Allen's dialogue and it just doesn't work. Strangely, in "Point", there is no "Woody Allen" character, adding another level of surprise to the film. He has created something almost entirely new, challenging his skills and abilities.
The predominantly British cast and locations add a level of authenticity to his writing, helping it seem more natural. We fully believe that a bunch of upper crust Brits would act and speak like this. At one point, late in the film, a character quickly talks about neuroses, reminding us that this is in fact a Woody Allen film. But before and after this point, the thought never occurred to me. You might almost forget.
The biggest and best change in the new film is that Allen doesn't subject us to another interpretation of his character running around with an actress (or two) twenty to thirty years his junior. We are spared endless scenes of these actresses claiming what a great lover Allen's character is. Thank GOD! Allen is a funny guy, but to watch Elizabeth Berkeley, Helen Hunt and others fight over Allen, and his "ability to make love", is just painful.
In "Point", Allen casts Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlet Johannson as the ill-fated lovers. Emily Mortimer completes the trio as Chris' supportive, yet eager to be pregnant wife. As the film begins, we realize we are in the hands of an accomplished filmmaker. Through a series of short scenes, Chris' life is quickly established and Rhys Meyers hints that his character may be a gold-digger, placing himself in situations in which he is more likely to meet the well-to-do. Then again, he could just be trying to make his life better; he is constantly trying to learn and seems to work hard. But Chris remains enough of an enigma to keep us guessing. As his life begins to get better, it also starts to unravel. He quickly becomes comfortable in his new lifestyle and sees it slipping out of his hands if Nola gets her way.
Emily Mortimer brings a quiet vulnerability to the role of Chloe. She adds just the right level of love and support to spoiled rich girl, making her character interesting and believable. Just as things begin to get complicated, she begins nagging Chris about having a baby. This causes her husband to vacillate back and forth. Should he stay with Chloe or leave her for a more passionate, but less comfortable existence with Nola?
The biggest problem in the film is Scarlet Johannson. She is good, but Allen's dialogue does not blend well with her age, lack of experience and accent. In her mouth, his dialogue sounds stiff and forced. The contrast between Johannson and the British actors is really quite noticeable. She is much better in her scenes with Tom, as his fiance, sharing alcohol and food, flirting a bit, putting on an act. When she becomes the center of Chris' attention, she does and says things which seem unnatural becoming a fairly stereotypical "jilted lover". How exactly does a young American woman come up with the resources to move from England to the States and then back to London again? How does she survive in London on a shop girl's salary?
Also, there is a point during the resolution when characters, specifically two British detectives, talk about things we haven't seen. Their descriptions are amusing, but it is a sloppy method of storytelling.
These two points aside, "Match Point" represents a return to form for a master filmmaker. As the story unfolds, and we realize the events will be told in a series of tableaus, leaving out the unnecessary bits, we realize we are in the hands of a master. Sit back, enjoy and let Allen tell his story.