Woody Allen takes his show on the road for his latest film Match Point, leaving New York and setting the story within the grey, mysterious city of London. This is a huge leap for the director who has made a career out of his beautiful scenic shots of Manhattan. But you can’t teach an old dog too many new tricks—the film still centers around his favorite naughty hobby, infidelity. The plus side is that these affairs involve young attractive actors, Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. The elderly neurotic filmmaker makes the wise choice of sitting firmly behind the camera and away from public viewing.
Match Point is a breath of fresh air for Allen, whose movies have become bumbling caricatures of themselves in recent years. By deciding to return (if only briefly) to mature, smart thrillers in the vein of Crimes and Misdemeanors, he leaves the insecure humor, under-age lusting, and self-deprecating jabs behind. The movie isn’t perfect, as it drags on too long and delves into a silly detective subplot, but it’s a world of improvement compared to the dreadful offerings of Anything Else and Hollywood Ending. Match Point gives me faith that Woody still has a few good movies left in him, somewhere.
The story is about an ex-pro tennis player Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who moves to London in pursuit of a better life. He meets Chloe (Emily Mortimer), a spoiled woman whose family lives a life of upscale luxury. She seeks him out like a lion eyeing an antelope, but their burgeoning relationship fails to excite him. When he first spots Nola (Scarlett Johansson), he is entranced by her beauty and becomes obsessed with conquering her. The problem is that she is dating Tom (Matthew Goode), who just happens to be Chloe’s brother.
Torn between his desire to marry into money or be with the woman of his wet dreams, Chris finds himself trapped in a web of lies and deceit. He marries Chloe, and she becomes fixated on trying to conceive a baby. As we know, nothing turns a man on like a woman desperately wanting to get pregnant and announcing every minute when she is ovulating. Yearning for passion, Chris continues to see Nola, leading her to believe he is going to leave his wife any time now (which of course, he isn’t). As a result, everyone finds themselves unpleasantly involved in a mess that is too sticky to resolve amicably.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played the sizzling coach in Bend It Like Beckham, turns in a really riveting performance. His despicable character conjures up flashbacks of Jude Law in Closer, with no real traces of humanity. His self-serving, manipulative ways paint him as an unethical sociopath. Scarlett Johansson (Lost In Translation) plays an insecure, sweet, lost-soul actress just trying to find happiness. She certainly doesn’t find it in this movie, and watching her downward spiral is a grueling testament to her acting chops.
Match Point loses steam towards the end, overstaying its welcome and losing focus. It becomes obvious where the story is heading, and it’s ultimately unsatisfying when it finally gets there. The film is not put together perfectly, but it’s a quiet atmospheric story about the emotional toll of false promises and regrettable life decisions. These are not characters that you would ever want to know, but they are strangely fascinating in their own immoral right. The film was celebrated at Cannes film festival, and although it may be flawed, it proves an exciting return to form by Allen.