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MATCH POINT (2005 - R)
A slightly darker, more melodramatic Woody Allen script brings to the silver screen a ravishing depiction of Britain’s upper middle class and their romantic hob-nobbing. When poor Irish boy, Chris Wilton, falls for his benefactor and friend’s fiancée, Nola Rice, dangerous liaisons arise, leading to seduction, betrayal, and of course, murder. Many infamous Woody-isms, drama, and banter ensue.
Written and directed by: Woody Allen.
“The man who said “I’d rather be lucky than good”, saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s own control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward, or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose”…
So begins the beginning of our dark Woody Allen melodrama with a rather perspicuous opening as narrated by our leading man, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a former tennis pro looking for a little love and little luck in London, England. With a stellar career and academic resume Chris lands himself a job at a posh English country club and manages to purchase a modest, albeit handsome flat. Within the first week of work he comes across the amiable Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) who declares his shared love for all things related to tennis, opera, beautiful women, and Dostoevsky. Immediately the Hewett’s: Alec “Papa” (Brian Cox), Eleanor “Mama” (Penelope Wilton), and particularly Chloe (Emily Mortimer) are taken by the genteel Mr. Wilton.
As Chloe and Chris turn things to a more intimate note, the former is unprepared for his encounter with the intoxicating, albeit hazardous American beauty Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). But just as soon as the steamy banter gets started, in walks buzz kill Tom Hewett who is, to Chris’ dismay, Nola’s fiancée. All the same, Nola is a struggling American actress who, via both her nationality and her less than affecting profession (or lack thereof) has Tom’s parents, particularly his hawk-eyed mother, in high hopes of a sudden fizzling out between the two. Still, nothing seems particularly threatening in the forecast as of yet, that is, until Chris’ interest in Nola begins to disrupt the harmony between he and Chloe.
As Eleanor Hewett urges Tom to move on, and away from Nola, and Chloe makes big plans for her and Chris’ future, Chris makes his move on the femme fatale with the sensual lips. A romantic romp through rainy fields remains a hidden secret between the two lovers that, unbeknownst to either Tom or Chloe Hewett, has Chris perhaps a bit confused on where he should take his future; what risks he should take; how aggressively he should play his game, etc.
With pressure from the Hewett’s, and prospects of an elite job offering via Alec Hewett’s own company, Chris feels the impending pressure to move forward with Chloe. Still, he’s hoping that something will come up between him and Nola and, behind his new best buddies back, he continues to swoon, sway, and persuade Nola to return her formerly warmer affections. But when Chris espies her and Tom passionately reigniting the flame (that coincidentally never seems to have wandered from their relationship in the first place- or is that just a front?), Chris seizes the moment to make the most of his very “lucky” and convenient relationship with the loyal, supportive, and endearing Chloe Hewett. So, though one might expect wedding bells from Tom and Nola first hand, it is Chloe and Chris who are to first tie the knot and make the Hewett’s proud.
Married, unbelievably lucky and successful at his job, still Chris can’t seem to stop himself from thinking about Nola. Needless to say he is more than taken aback to learn that Nola and Tom have broken up and the latter is quickly on his way down the aisle to a shotgun wedding and a life with a new fiancée. So while Chris and Chloe make social with Tom and his new pretty wife (whom his mother coincidentally loves), Nola bounces back and forth from Boulder, Colorado and back to England in hopes of finally landing an acting gig.
When Chris stumbles upon her at the Tate Modern things once again resume a steamy path which includes an extremely long, extremely risky, and extremely cunning affair for the better part of a year or so. While Chloe begins to suspect foul play on behalf of her husband (though she never presumes Nola to be the target of Chris’ alleged wandering affections), she likewise pushes for pregnancy. Though the two try for more than a year, their love life is literally obliterated by the mechanic efficiency of timed sex, fertility medicines, and all things “baby.” So Chris releases the better part of his sexual frustrations in the arms of his passionate Nola who ironically becomes pregnant before his own wife. While he struggles to hide his infidelity from his wife, Nola ups the pressure for him to come clean to Chloe and move on and away from his upper class “Hewettian” bought-and-owned lifestyle.
But Chris is feeling the intense pressure and responsibilities of tending to a suspecting wife, an over zealous mistress, and a demanding set of in-laws. When Nola threatens to concede the affair to Chloe if Chris doesn’t man up, her lover is forced into a rash and deadly decision that results in mystery, mayhem, and a dark fate for several key players. By the end of the film, one thing is for sure: when such high risks are at stake in a game that involves copious amounts of money and all sorts of lavish upper class oddities, you better have a lot of luck or else you just may implode under the pressures chance brings to the table.
As one critic notes, “Match Point” is a remarkably dark, melodramatic, and likewise poignant retrospective about life, love, and the exact measure of luck that plays into making both a successful turn about: “the philosophical ideas it brought up were the best Woody Allen had given us in a long while. Here with "Match Point" he explores the notion of luck and gives us his best film since....well, since I don't know when.” This film is a ravishing melodrama with comic relief both dark and lighthearted, sinister subplots, philosophical inquisitions, and the exploitation and examination of the gaudy and idle, albeit enviable upper class lifestyle. This film is a post modern adaptation of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald’s bittersweet Marxian perspective of the oddities and realities of the class system and one man’s determination to infiltrate and climb the social ladder into an ultra exclusive and charming society where, once in, life should seem as comfy cozy as Egyptian silken pillows. As one critic comments, in “Match Point” Allen acutely explores “the love lives of semi-bored, over-educated filthy rich Brits who[,] when not hopping in and out of each other's beds[,] are hob-nobbing at the opera, the latest art exhibit, or lounging around their lavish estates reading and drinking.”
The ending of course is the lynch pin of the film: it is both witty and masterfully crafted. The switch in perspective, the heightened awareness of the philosophical premises and the moral ramifications (the ending is an entire philosophical diatribe on ethics), make the ending as surprising as it is a witty, well finished final note to the finely constructed film. It is in the ending that the tapestry that is “Match Point” is seamlessly woven together and the entire picture illuminated: it is the end that offers the whole perspective- the Woody perspective that is always already somehow different from the rest.
Allen’s script is mesmerizing, biting, witty, at times haunting, and always “en pointe.” A mixture of heady dialogue with crisp, tacit anecdotes and realisms keep the discourse fresh, enticing, and humorous, however dark and noirish at times: “it's the best kind of return to form you could hope for from a past master”. A complete antithesis to flippant satires like “A Midnight Sex Comedy” (though not to take away from the brilliance of such a work), “Match Point” brings a very different Woody Allen to the table for an equally different audience who will ravish and delight in his witty and macabre genius: the film is “free of all the typical Allen shtick… [he] keeps it all very clean, sheen, clever and classy.” Likewise, paying homage to one of literature’s greats, Dostoevsky, the film makes repeated references, including some snapshots of Penguin Classic covers of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces, to the great literary genius who’s premise concerning evil as the necessary counterpoint to good is appropriately philosophized in Allen’s film: “Allen here doesn't seem to be writing off the need for hard work completely, but to achieve a truly privileged life, where one can get away with just about anything, you better have a lot of luck.”
Likewise the film’s musical score, complete with an ensemble of operatic overtures, all appropriately melodramatic and tragic of course. The film is a British adaptation of a great Greek tragedy that is a philosophical exploration of the mercenary and motivated wiles of human nature and our determination to survive at whatever costs.
The acting is also extremely compelling. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is quite intriguing as the slightly schizoid poor Irish boy who, despite his ability to survive amongst the milieu of the highbrow social euphoria, is inept and unequipped to deal with the lavish luxuries of the idle upper class. Torn between despising the excesses of wealth and coveting the comfortable lifestyle, Jonathan’s performance as the self-imploding Chris Wilton- a man who literally loses all sense of self and reverts to completely primitive and animalistic survival tactics to secure his social station and hard earned comforts, is mesmerizing. As is Scarlett Johansson as the enigmatic blonde beauty Nola Rice who is a sort of post modern, black comedy femme fatale- as sharp tongued and dogged as her suave counterpoint. Emily Mortimer is completely endearing and affecting as Chloe Hewett. Matthew Goode is equally compelling as the well cultured and well rounded Tom Hewett. Brian Cox gives another great, albeit subtle performance as Mr. Hewett, and Penelope Wilton is quite comical as the snobbish, slightly tipsy Eleanor Hewett.
”Match Point” was nominated for the 2006 Oscar for best Writing/Screenplay (Woody Allen). The film was also nominated for 9 other critical film nominations including the Chicago Film Critic’s Award for Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Spain’s Cinema Writers Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, the Edgar Allen Poe’s Edgar award for Best Picture (Woody Allen), and 4 Golden Globes: Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Picture-Drama, Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), and Best Screenplay (Woody Allen). “Match Point” was also the proud recipient of 2 additional critical film association awards: David di Donatello’s David Award for Best European Film (Woody Allen), and the Goya Award for Best European Film (Woody Allen).
Chris: “I hate the whole tennis tour thing.”
Chris: This is 225 pounds a week?
Estate Agent: This is London, mate…
Chris: I’ll take it.
Tom: Yeah, well, the old say “thank you very much for the lovely flowers. They were very thoughtful and totally unnecessary. But off the record: well done, A+, because they love that sort of thing.
Chloe: So, you’re a poor boy from Ireland, come to London…
Chris: So tell me, what’s a beautiful young American ping pong player doing mingling amongst the British upper class?
Nola: Did anyone ever tell you play a very aggressive game?
Tom: Now Irish, how ‘bout a little drop of Scottish before supper?
Nola: What I am is sexy. My sister, she’s “classically beautiful.”
Nola: She wants him to marry this girl named Olivia, who I think is some sort of a distant
cousin… I don’t know. It’s sick, you know, it’s such an inbred family… So what about you and Chloe?
Chris: She’s very sweet.
Nola: Mmm, she’s very sweet.
Nola: You’re going to do very well for yourself: unless you blow it.
Chris: And how would I blow it?
Nola: By making a pass at me.
Tom’s fiancée: Tom said she looks a bit hard.
Tom: Well she’s always been a sort of “lady of the sword” if you know what I mean…But she still has that come hither look (talking about Nola).
Chris: What unbelievable bad luck. Christ, I can’t get my wife pregnant no matter how hard I try and the minute you’re unprotected I knock you up.
Nola: Huh, that’s because you love me and you don’t love her.
Chris: Is that your interpretation?
Nola: It’s a child conceived out of genuine passion not as some part of, of a fertility project.
Nola: Chris, you have to, I expect you to do the right thing, okay?
Nola: “Be reasonable” got me exactly where I am right now.
Chris: The innocent are sometimes slain to make way for a grander scheme. You were collateral damage.
Mrs. Beasby: So was your own child.
Chris: Sophocles once said, “to never have been born may be greatest boon of all.”
Chris: It would be fitting if I were apprehended and punished. At least there would be some, small sign of justice: some, small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.
Tom: You know I don’t care if he’s great: I just hope he’s lucky.