Advantage: Woody Allen’s slow burning “Match Point”
If ever there were a movie that neophytes of director Woody Allen’s impressive body of work should see, it is “Match Point.” Not because it is representative of his catalogue, which now spans 40 films across five decades. Although his latest does display his fingerprints, he opts for a setting in London (as opposed to the usual New York), a dramatic morality play (instead of light comedy or romance), and an operatic soundtrack (used primarily in segues as opposed to his beloved jazz).
Most importantly, his deftly written script contains no character Allen could portray– so he stays behind the camera and allows his gifted cast to help him produce one of his finest films.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is former middling tennis pro Chris Wilton, who lands a comfortable instructor’s job at an elite club in London. He soon befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who shares a passion for tennis, opera, and the posh lifestyle. After Tom introduces Chris to his bubbly sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), their courtship begins and love appears to grow (if not sizzle) through marriage, a handsome opportunity at the family firm, and some fertility frustration. Chris risks it all when his passion is provoked by Tom’s smoldering fiance Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an unsuccessful American actress who appears equally self-assured and vulnerable.
In lesser hands, this story of obsession, greed, and lust could easily have slipped into contrivance, or predictability, or have taken off on a wild, gratuitous tangent in order to disguise an unwillingness to entrust an audience to care about characters that are flawed yet maintain their likability.
But not Allen. Call him old-fashioned (at 70, he wouldn’t argue), but all things old are new again as Woody infuses a true sense of what is at stake, while keeping the audience uncertain of exactly whom to root for. He guides the story deliberately toward a final act that forces us to ponder what evil might be perpetrated by someone so apparently poised, smart, and genuine.
That a film doesn’t rely on its potential shock value to be thought provoking or to keep our attention is truly worth savoring. Surely this is the most docile “R” rated film in ages, (Like most Allen films nary an obscenity nor much skin), and so it won’t garner much attention. But Woody won’t care. He makes movies for himself primarily, shunning award ceremonies, celebrity and hype in favor of craft for craft’s sake.
That old-fashioned notion, like his movies, is a breath of fresh air.
BRUCE’S FAVORITE WOODY ALLEN MOVIES:
What’s your mood? Comedy? Try “Sleeper,” “Play It Again, Sam,” “Small Time Crooks,” “Bullets Over Broadway.” Romance? “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Everyone Says I Love You” (A great musical!) Relationships? “Annie Hall,” “Melinda and Melinda,” “Husbands and Wives” “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Noir? “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”