Woody Allen is one of the most important directors alive. But because his comic persona is so well-known, and because he’s so prolific, we take him for granted. Personal scandal cost him many fans, and even the die-hard found the brilliant and excoriating Deconstructing Harry almost too personal to watch.
His new movie, Match Point , will win our home-grown genius many new fans. Though it is a return to the themes of Crimes and Misdemeanours – weakness of character, an inconvenient woman, and evil gone unpunished – Allen’s demons are banished, and we’ve never seen him make moves like this. Match Point is a sexy, slickly produced, sharply focused, dark and violent genre classic.
Chris, Jonathan Rhys Myers, is a poor Irish boy, who made good by becoming a professional touring tennis player. He is intensely competitive, driven by lusts, with the killer instinct of a born closer. So why did he always lose to great players like Agassi? "I think it’s important to be lucky in anything," he says. "Scientists say – it’s all blind chance, no purpose. Faith is just the path of least resistance."
So Chris gets a job as a tennis pro at an exclusive club in London. Does he do this because he’s lazy, or to gain access to the right people? I suspect that Chris has a lot in common with Tom Ripley in the novels of Patricia Highsmith. He covets not just possessions, but the very lives of the idle rich. His tailored suit, tan skin, and cultured elocution are the just price of admission. His identity is an opportunistic, protean thing. As Ripley studied Jazz to blend in with the rich, Chris studies Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. If he’d paid closer attention, we’d have no movie.
Chris hooks a rich girl – the sweet and childish baby factory Chloe, Emily Mortimer — and effortlessly insinuates himself with the family. He is being groomed for an office job in Daddy’s company. But then, at the family’s mansion in the country, Chris meets Nola, Scarlett Johansson. She is earthy, vulgar, a total sexpot, a wannabe actress, another shape shifter. Literally from first sight, Chris can’t keep his hands off her. Unfortunately, she is the fiancée of his soon-to-be brother-in-law. Why would he risk it all? His new life is coiling around him like a boa constrictor, so he reaches for the forbidden, low-hanging fruit.
And at this point, I must stop discussing the plot. I will say only that the web of lies grows thicker, the tension ratchets up higher, a character goes further down the wrong path than you believed possible, and despite yourself, you will this person to get away with it. I invite you to watch for the moment when someone closes a cellular phone, and with it, seals the fate of three others. As Woody Allen often points out in his films, the Universe is not in the business of punishing such people. But the highest court in the land is conscience; and when pushed down, it has a way of coming back up with a vengeance.
Match Point is playing at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.