Woody Allen departs from his usual style in ‘Match Point’


Match Point
Dreamworks Pictures/BBC Films, 2005
Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer
Directed by Woody Allen
Rated R, 124 min.

“Match Point” is the least Allenesque Woody Allen film ever. The characters don’t have any longwinded and eloquent monologues about their views on life; Allen doesn’t act in it; there isn’t any of the Jim-Carrey-for-intellectuals shtick that peppers most of his comedy; it isn’t set in New York; and there isn’t even a smidgen of golden-age jazz on the soundtrack. Anything that would keep an Allen-hater away is missing here _” in fact, it could have come from another filmmaker entirely.

Allen has directed about 40 movies, and he’s been nominated for 20 Oscars for writing and directing, winning three times. He made some of the funniest films ever created, including “Sleeper,” “Zelig” and “Annie Hall.” He made some of the most disquieting, stark dramas in American film. He accomplished the odd and impressive task of making a parody of film-buff-hero Ingmar Bergman with “Love and Death.” In short, you can never be too certain what Allen is going to come up with next.

“Match Point” sees him trying something new, and with resounding success.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “Alexander”), a guy from a poor background who has acquired a taste for high culture and expensive living, is a former tennis professional. As the film opens, he’s just landed a job at a tennis club in London, teaching the idle rich how to improve their serves.

He strikes up a friendship with one of those idle rich, a nice guy named Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode, “Chasing Liberty”), whose aristocratic family takes to Chris like a mouse to cheese. Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer, “Notting hill”), is particularly attracted to Chris, and her parents (Brian Cox, “Troy,” and Penelope Wilton, “Shaun of the Dead”) are so delighted that their daughter has found a nice man to settle down with that they fix Chris up with a cushy job and a nice place.

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As Tom’s fiancee, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson, “In Good Company”), tells Chris, “You’re going to do very well for yourself, unless you blow it.”

“And how am going to blow it?” Chris asks.

“By making a pass at me,” Nola replies, and she’s very correct about that.

While Chris enjoys the accoutrements that come from being in a rich family, his actual passions lie in Tom’s very attractive partner. An affair ignites between the two, and it complicates Chris’s neat life considerably.

Chris is seen reading “Crime and Punishment” early on, which becomes significant as the film progresses.

“Match Point” is less concerned with advancing its plot then it is with studying its characters. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is great as the arrogant cad whose climb through the social ranks would remain unimpeded if only he could keep his desires in check. Scarlett Johansson is terrific as Nola, who mixes about as well with the British upper class as could be expected of a brash, usually tipsy American.

“Match Point” is a bit slow paced but only because it builds up impact as the plot progresses. I left the theater shaken up, surprised that I was so affected by what seemed to be a conventional love-triangle story, which turned into something different entirely.

Anybody whose idea of good cinema involves something more then cheesy one-liners and special effects will enjoy this movie.