Sunday, October 9, 2011

Match Point

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(124 min, 2005)
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Emily Mortimer

Game of lust.


“All people seem to be divided into "ordinary" and "extraordinary". The ordinary people must lead a life of strict obedience and have no right to transgress the law because ... they are ordinary. Whereas the extraordinary people have the right to commit any crime they like and transgress the law in any way just because they happen to be extraordinary.”
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Crime and Punishment”

Tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) takes a job as a tennis instructor and hits it off immediately with one of his students, wealthy young Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode). Tom introduces Chris to his family and Chris falls quickly into a romance with Tom's sister Chloe. But despite the growing certainty that Chris and Chloe will marry, and the enormous professional and financial advantages that come Chris's way through his relationship with the delighted Hewitt family, Chris becomes increasingly intrigued and eventually romantically involved with Tom's fiance, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), a struggling American actress

Lust. One of the seven deadly sins, the force that drives people towards sex, success, greed. It's like fire, if you play with it without being careful – you will get burnt. The problem with the characters in “Match Point” is that no one is being careful – here are the people driven only by their selfish needs, without caring about others or the consequences of their actions.

Who would thought that Woody Allen will shot a thriller, let alone in London without many jokes in it and without one character that would be the standard one for Allen movies usually played by Woody himself. “Match Point” is viewed as something new in his work, although I've never looked at it like this – after all “Match Point” shares a lot, maybe even too much, with another Allen's movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. In fact the whole story, the crucial events in it, are almost exactly the same. There is a lot of irony in “Match Point” but the one surrounding the movie, the fact that most “original” Allen's movie made in years is yet again him recycling old ideas, is probably the funniest part.

The story focuses around Chris Wilton who quickly becomes one of the members of upper class thanks to friendship with wealthy family – he marries Chloe, rich girl, her father gets him a serious job, he moves into beautiful apartment. He is doing very well for himself but there is one problem – Chris's lust towards Nola, his brother-in-law fiance. When Nola and Tom break up Chris persuades her and continues the affair. Soon Nola claims she is pregnant and wants Chris all for herself. That's when Chris takes drastic steps to protect what he “earned”. He kills Nola's neighbor and her and makes it look like a drug-related burglary.

That sequence is the most chilling one shot by Allen. In one scene Chris is reading “Crime and punishment” and it is yet another review after “The Machinist” where I must mention the brilliant connection between novel and the movie – Chris kills one woman as collateral damage, just as Raskolnikow and his escape from the building is very similar to the one in novel. The crucial difference is the murderer himself – in the famous novel eaten by guilt here Chris is able to “sweep the guilt under rug and live with it”. The similarity is that both Raskolnikow and Chris subconsciously want to be caught, to prove to themselves there is some good and justice in the world. In the novel it doesn't happen and Raskolnikow confesses. Here Chris gets away with it, because he doesn't feel the need to confess.

What shocks me the most about “Match Point” is the fact we want the main character to get away with murder. We feel anxious in the scene where he clumsily puts the pieces of riffle together, when the neighbor arrives to check on Mrs. Eastby we want him to go away and leave Chris alone. The script, the performances and Allen's talent almost make double (maybe even triple) murder to look like not a big deal. Chris is an arrogant, immoral person but for some reason we like him – maybe it's because how impressive his ability to come up with a lie on command and his brilliance are. He is a smart guy, already interested in some of the things upper class loves like opera and Dostoyevsky. He is just as rotten as they are, so when we see him marry Chloe it makes sense, it fits. Besides Nola keeps acting like a deranged neurotic, which she can't be blamed for, but her behavior is an understandable threat from Chris's point of view. And the movie presents his point of view. Funny thing is the emotion I had watching the movie – knowing how awful Chris's actions are, that he killed innocent people, I still rooted for him. That maybe Allen's greatest joke in a while.

“Match Point” is one of the best thrillers of the past decade – Academy Award nominated script is intricate, convincing and amazingly smart. The characters are vivid but not parodies of real people as if often happens in Allen's movies. Each of them is different but similar in some ways – we have Chris, someone willing to do a lot to improve his way of life, someone who values comfortable life, good job, money and high social status. We have Nola, beautiful, charming but at the same time whimsical, stubborn and unsuccessful. We have Hewett siblings – Chloe and Tom. Chloe wants nothing more than to have a child and perfect life – with balanced work and family life, great apartment, husband and kids. Tom rebels at first, dating Nola. But it is clear from the beginning he doesn't love her – when she got pregnant with him he told her to abort it, but when he got woman of his social status knocked up, he married her. So here we have Chris – career-maker, Nola – woman sleeping with men for gifts and attention, Chloe – blindly focused on her needs and Tom who is a coward. But we like all those characters, because Allen portrays them with sympathy.

We like Nola because she refuses to just give up the fight. She gets pregnant (? - I'll come back to that) with Chris and she says no when he tries to get her to get rid of the problem. She is persistent and she has a sense of her own worth and at first she sensed correctly that this affair will bring her nothing good. But lust was just too disarming to overcome. Chloe is very sweet and has nave and innocent face of Emily Mortimer, plus her husband cheats on her – how can we not feel for her? And Tom is incredibly charming, funny and brings in a lot of amusing lines.

I found two interesting connections – Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Henry VIII in “The Tudors”. Everyone knows the story of the love the king and Anne Boleyn shared. Boleyn was one of the smartest women in history – she played him, she made him break the country apart. But the minute he had her, he got bored. That is what often happens – the chase is more fun than the prize. Here it happens the exact same way – Nola pushes him back, toys with him, but as soon as she is his, he starts losing interest. Maybe he never even loved her – it was temporary lust. And when Nola is nothing exciting or new, unreachable to him, he gets bored with her and she can't do anything to win him back. The second connection is to unforgettable “Trainspotting” where Ewen Bremmer played heroin addict. Here he is detective and he says “He had a pretty strong motive too. Heroine”.

The ending is saddening, because there is no justice in the movie, but on the other hand one may find consolation in the fact the detective figured it out. Chris didn't get away with murder because it was a perfect crime, he escaped the prison only because of luck. The beginning of the movie with tennis ball bouncing on top of the net is brilliantly mirrored in the sequence with the wedding ring – it's probably one of the smartest and most unforgettable shots of any Woody Allen's movie. If it wasn't for that ring Chris would go to jail.

One curious thing that still boggles me, after all those years is Nola's diary. Surely she must have written something about her pregnancy. Unless she wasn't really pregnant. The autopsy would determine that and no one except for Nola herself mentioned pregnancy. I think she was lying just to keep Chris, that was probably the only thing she thought she could do to make him leave his wife. Yes there is a ghost scene where unborn baby is mentioned – but keep in mind Chris thought Nola was pregnant and that was his dream. Another unanswered question that may later on lead to putting Chris behind bars is the woman working with Nola. She knew about the fact Nola was seeing someone, the man she dated, the day she died. I find it hard to believe the police wouldn't talk to her.

Those are things purposely left to viewer's imagination, Allen wants us to know that even if Chris's guilt is not strong enough for him to do the right thing and confess, there are still ways for him to pay for what he did.

The music is composed of different opera pieces, not jazz always heard in Allen's movies. Since it is a thriller, not as usual for Allen comedy, that was the perfect choice. The cinematography is very stylish, as are locations. The movie is very elegant and incredible to watch, with all those classy settings and upper class luxuries. The passionate scenes between Nola and Chris are really stirring, no wonder Scarlett Johansson became Allen's muse and sex symbol after this movie.

“Match Point” is a wonderful film with a shocking plot, well written characters and dialogues and fantastic performances. Rhys Meyers was born to play assholes and he is the perfect Chris, Johansson makes her Nola more than typical femme fatale. It is a great story of lust, crime and luck. And even if Chris never gets punished we should feel sorry for him – he can't feel real love or real guilt – because he always thinks of what is good for him, just him. No matter what the cost is.


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