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Match Point


MATCH POINT

Woody Allen mounted one of his most challenging and emotionally manipulative stories with Match Point, a 2005 film that treads familiar territory for Allen such as infidelity and the art of self-preservation, but dresses it up by setting it on a British canvas that is so intoxicating at times that one almost doesn't notice how unappealing and unerringly human these characters are until the manipulation grabs the viewer and does not let go.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis pro and new resident to London who becomes friends with one of his students named Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode), getting in good with Tom's wealthy family and sealing the deal by marrying Tom's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and accepting a job with her father's company. Unfortunately, Chris becomes obsessed with Tom's fiancee, an American named Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), putting everything at risk.

Allen's Oscar-nominated screenplay provides us with a central character of dubious ethics who makes a lot of wrong moves in his battle for self-preservation, but what I found was Chris was not the only character with defects here...all the players did things that made me squirm at some point through the many twists and turns that this prickly story takes. I didn't like the way Chloe attempted to smother Chris and bully him into starting a family that he clearly wasn't ready for. I also didn't like Nola from the start either...it was aggravating watching Nola do nothing to discourage Chris' obsession and then turning on him when he was unable to just walk away from his other life for her.

Allen's screenplay does recall earlier work like Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdeamenors, but Allen has cleverly taken his normally neurotic and tragically flawed characters and placed them across the pond. These characters look and sound so proper and pious at times that you almost don't notice how messy these people are and how every central character produces repulsive and squirm worthy moments at some point in this sometimes ugly story.

As always, Allen scores with some unconventional casting and pulls first rate performances from his cast, with standout work from Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whose baby-faced features provide a frightening dichotomy to this sometimes slimy central character and Johansson, who does some of the strongest work her career as the jilted mistress, bringing an intelligence that you usually don't see in this kind of character, even if it doesn't last.

Allen has set this very unpleasant story on a very pleasant canvas...his use of London locations is just as effective as his use of Manhattan locations in his most famous work and once again, Allen's flawless ear with music works here by using minimal operatic recordings that lends further power to the piece. Despite a troublesome conclusion that left a bad taste in my mouth, this film rivals Interiors and Crimes and Misdeamenors as one of Allen's most ambitious challenging pieces which tells a story that does not pander to the audience.