A con artist meets his match: Fate
Luck is precisely the factor Allen focuses on in his latest film, “Match Point,” about romance gone sour in London. Jonathon Rhys Meyers plays Chris Wilton, a cold-hearted manipulator whose lies start catching up to him; Emily Mortimer plays Chloe, his very rich and very clueless wife, and Scarlett Johansson is Nola, the blonde American Chris can’t resist.
For Allen, who of course also wrote the screenplay, “Match Point” is something new: His first real serious crime thriller. When the professional tennis instructor Chris meets Nola, she’s dating Chloe's brother (Matthew Goode). Months later, after the two have broken up, Chris and Nola's affair begins in earnest and Nola begins to demand that Chris leave his wife. But Chris, from a working-class family in Ireland, doesn’t want to give up the high-powered job, cavernous apartment and weekends in the country that he has in his life with Chloe. Things get nasty, and Chris has to trust his luck.
The fickle finger of fate works as an effective engine for suspense in the film. By chance, Chris meets Nola in a museum after she tried to avoid him. Meanwhile, doctors inform Chris and Chloe that they’re not infertile ― they just haven’t been lucky in the pregnancy department. And when Chris starts turning to desperate measures, his luck seems to turn off and on every few minutes.
Wilton is perhaps the most subdued star to have appeared in an Allen film. His subtle emotional manipulation of Chloe is truly sinister, a dance of modesty shielding a secret agenda. Mortimer plays Wilton’s mark tragically well, while Johansson puts in a provocative turn as the self-aware seductress.
Of course, the other unique aspect of “Match Point” is its location. Though Allen has rarely left his New York home over the years, he shot the movie in London. With one exception, Allen shies away from filming flashy landmarks, instead favoring less recognizable street scenes, and his expert eye for the urban makes for a smooth adaptation to the new locale. In fact, the rows of deteriorating flats that characterize Nola’s neighborhood are quite reminiscent of Allen’s hometown. The exception is the Royal Albert Hall, where Wilton and his new wife attend the operas that provide the film’s soundtrack.
“Match Point” is the most surprising Woody Allen film in decades. Its stone-faced lead is the polar opposite of what audiences expect from Allen's own on-screen persona, and its high-stakes plot has none of the light triviality that bounces through Allen's comedic efforts. Instead of using his talent for natural dialogue and hidden meaning to service farcical gags, Allen has created a handsome but despicable con man. “Match Point” is an impressive acheivement. We can only hope that for his next film, Woody Allen’s luck holds.
Drama / English
by Ben Applegate
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