Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Match Point

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Myers, Scarlett Johannson, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox
Running Time: 126 min.

Rating: R

Release Date: 2005

*** (out of ****)

It's tough work having a wife and a girlfriend. If you don't believe it, just watch Match Point, Woody Allen's 2005 film about a tennis pro who gives in to temptation and finds out that cheating, while immediately gratifying, just doubles your responsibilities and problems in the long run. The hiding, the lying, the excuses, the worrying if she'll call the house when the wife's home. The stress is enough to send anyone to an early grave. It's a movie about a good guy (although we're not too sure by the end) who makes one really bad decision.

Jonathan Rhys Myers plays a failed Irish tennis pro Chris Wilton who gets a job teaching tennis at one of those rich, snobby British tennis clubs where he starts giving lessons to Tom (Chasing Liberty's Matthew Goode) and his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Before long he's involved with Chloe, more out of convenience than anything else. He really has eyes for Tom's fiancee, aspiring American actress Nola (Scarlettt Johansson). He starts an affair with her that continues long after Tom's relationship with Nola ends and Chris marries Chloe. That's when the real problems start. You see, Chloe is mildly pretty, nice, comes from money, is safe and boring as hell. It's easy to see why he'd want to have an affair, especially the other woman is Scarlett Johansson and Chloe starts constantly taking her temperature and buying fertility idols.

The amount of effort needed to lie and hide the affair goes beyond what any man could possibly deal with. He wants to divorce Chloe, but can't. He feels too safe. He lusts for Nola, but clearly doesn't love her. He's torn between the predictable and the exciting. Really neither of the two women are right for him as he needs some kind of combination of the two to be completely happy. It reminds me of a guy I knew who once told me about his relationship that "when we're at home she's my wife, when we go out she's my girlfriend." Chris Wilton needs that woman badly. He ends up treating Nola far worse than his wife as he keeps stringing her along making promises he can't keep. Her character's supposed to be a villain but you can't help feeling for her because Johansson plays her as a troubled, confused and almost naive soul in a quietly nuanced performance. The story goes into dark territory, without giving too much away, as Chris attempts to eliminate the problem the only way he knows how. Things start to get really complicated, but I like how at the end Allen doesn't wrap everything up neatly in a bow for us. It ends unresolved, as do most things in life.

This isn't your typical Woody Allen picture, which is probably good a thing. I'm grateful he restrained himself from starring in it and asking us yet again to suspend disbelief to the absolute highest degree that young, hot women lust after him. Anyone going in expecting Annie Hall 2 will probably be dissapointed as this is about as dark as it gets, with none of the trademark Allen comedy. Like his best movies though, it features real people with believable problems and treated in a classy way, no matter how messy the situation may get. We may not like the characters but we can empathize with them.

Luck and chance is a reoccurring theme in the film with the game of tennis inexplicably used a metaphor. I always thought that was more based on skill. Plus, no event in this movie has much to do with chance at all. It's more about just one man being remarkably irresponsible and stupid. He does this to himself. Nonetheless, this a return to top form for Woody Allen after a string of flops. Although I heard after this, he's back to making flops again. Too bad. With Match Point, he's at least delivered a film that has you thinking right up until the final credits.

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