STARRING Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, Emily Mortimer and Scarlet Johansson
DIRECTED BY Woody Allen
Opens Friday January 20
In a rare interview, Woody Allen in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly said he always wished his strong suit had been drama, but "it wasn't my strong point was comedy."
In a career that now spans 36 films, the New York director takes a noticeable departure from his hometown, and his typical genre, for his latest film, a gut-wrenching tale of infidelity, moral ambiguity and social climbing called Match Point. One of Allen's most searing films to date, not to mention one of his least comedically inclined, Match Point is a straight-up thriller that proves the auteur isn't dead after all, he's just been hibernating.
Set in London, "Match Point" follows the upward rise of one-time professional tennis player Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyer). An Irish up-and-comer who never quite arrived despite showing promise on the court, Chris shows up in London primed to take a comfortable but somewhat disappointing post as the tennis pro at a posh London club. When he unexpectedly befriends Tom (Mathew Goode), the son of a wealthy businessman, he finds himself courting his new friend's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). The courtship leads to an unexpected run of good fortune as Chris finds himself the sudden benefactor of someone else's money and status.
Complicating matters, and threatening his new life (complete with a posh apartment and a plum job in his father-in-law's financial company), is a fling with his brother-in-law's fiancée Nola (Scarlet Johansson). Nola, a struggling American actress, becomes Chris's obsession, albeit one that is sweetest only when out of his reach.
Although Match Point isn't necessarily the darkest film Allen has made, it is starkly devoid of the director's usual stylistic touches. Most noticeably, the hero, or in this case the antihero, isn't played by Allen or an actor standing in for him. Without Manhattan backdrops and a manic, nebbish-y hero in place, Match Point at first feels like something other than a Woody Allen film. And while it certainly tackles many of the themes the director has been coming back to throughout his career (morality, guilt, retribution), it doesn't do so in typical Allen fashion. A sort of retake on one of Allen's best films, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point is ultimately a homage to Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." It's a film that meditates on whether or not we can ever truly "get away" with the bad deeds we commit.
What's most unsettling about Match Point is that without a manic Allen-esque character at its centre, the film becomes much darker. The main character is in many ways the antithesis of the hero Allen has been delivering all these years. Instead of an insecure intellectual, we have an ambitious former athlete. There are no self-effacing jokes from the former tennis star, no outward verbalizations of concerns or fears, and in that respect Allen the quintessential New Yorker makes a bold move by finally taking himself out of the picture.
Of course, for those who love the director, or have paid attention to his flops and achievements over the last 20 years, there are still signs that make the film indelibly his. But whether or not Match Point plays as a classic Woody Allen, it remains a thrilling and enjoyable caper that leaves you staggering instead of giggling. In other words, the director sold himself very short in that aforementioned interview he can definitely do drama.