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Match Point (2005 - Woody Allen)

First let me say right off the opening serve I am not much of a Woody Allen fan. I can intellectually appreciate some of his stuff, have little use for much of it, despise a handful but just plain adore a few of his movies. In the past twenty years I have adored exactly two: Crimes & Misdemeanors (1989) and Bullets Over Broadway (1994). Happily for me, Match Point in some key ways is very similar to both of those flicks.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, thankfully not stuck doing a Woody Allen impersonation as a surrogate for him, stars as Chris Wilton, a former tour tennis player who never seemed to get the right breaks of luck on the court when he was a player, so he couldn't quite compete with the top players in the world. Not to his satisfaction anyway. He's bounced around as a tennis pro at posh private clubs here and there, and as the movie opens he has taken a new position in London. There he meets the affable and easygoing Tom (Matthew Goode), who invites him on a couple of his wealthy family's outings. They are all charmed by the tennis pro, especially Tom's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). They fall into an easy relationship that, while not exactly passionate, is certainly comfortable and brings opportunities to Chris he's never know. Things might have continued along that track uneventfully except that he also meets Tom's finace Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an American wannabe actress who immediately interests him. To his peril.

That's the basic set-up, and if you think from that description and whatever impression you've gained from the trailer or TV ads that this is going to be a soap opera about the complications of love, lust and fate....you're only partially correct. First of all, Woody doesn't play any of this for laughs. It's probably the "straightest" movie he's ever made, and almost entirely (and intentionally) humorless. Rhys-Meyers has no comic neuroses or asides to the camera and the like, Johansson is not an exotic personality, the rich family both may be marrying into is not quirky or eccentirc. Everybody's cards, including writer/director Allen's, are played very close to the chest and layed down very conservatively. I dare say if you knew nothing about the movie going in and missed the title cards you might not even know it was a Woody Allen movie at all. But the Wood-man has one joker up his sleeve, and I think it rivals the best of his plotted punchlines (my favorite still being Bullets Over Broadway). The last twenty minutes hold the only two real laugh-out-loud moments, and they are played by a master. The punchline(s) is one of delicious irony, and layered in so perfectly and so satisfactorally that I barely minded that the set-up was a tad too long. The pay-off is most definitely worth the trip there.

Don't worry about whether or not you like, love or loathe Woody Allen's body of work, just go in for a damn gratifying and ultimately quite entertaining movie. And for goodness sake, don't walk into it late.