MATCH POINT: Flawlessly Average

Woody Allen’s script for MATCH POINT is perfectly woven together. From the interlocking characters to the airtight plotting, there are no loose or even suspect threads. Yet, there isn’t a scene that doesn’t feel like something we’ve seen before. Every curve ball, every twist, we see it coming because we’ve seen this type of story before. MATCH POINT may be less silly than say UNFAITHFUL, but it’s nowhere near as exciting to watch.

Yet there is a spin on the material here, something that should have freshened up the proceedings. For those of you that don’t know, the basic plot is boy meets girl, boy has an affair with Scarlett Johansson, and things get complicated. What’s new is I believe the boy (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) doesn’t so much cheat on his faithful wife (Emily Mortimer) as much as he marries her and then meets the true love of his life (Johansson.)
Usually, the other woman is portrayed as a scheming temptress, and Johansson’s Nola Rice hits all the same notes, but I think her jealousy is justified because she understands their love for each other is true (even if he’s too British to admit it.) She’ll be seen by many as the mistress gone crazy, but she’s right and desperately wants Chris to fess up that he married the wrong woman.
This interesting moral dilemma, however, hits the exact same notes as if Nola was just a bunny-boiling crazy mistress. Woody brings up the spin, but continues along the same tired path. There are some 3rd Act twists and the notion of being good vs. being lucky, but no moment truly took my breath away, even though a few times, that’s exactly what Allen was trying for.
I’m not a big fan of Johansson – her body is far more charismatic than her personality – and she’s taken a fair amount of heat for not being up to the level of her costars. You can always sense her making choices, whereas everyone else ‘becomes’ their characters. Yet, oddly I think this may be her best performance. It certainly requires more from her than I’ve seen before. (Too many movies she just drifts through.) Even if she isn’t able to match the intensity of her character, it’s still a fairly strong performance. The one moment where she does get to be all out angry is the most energetic scene in the movie. It’s like someone let a panther loose on camera.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers owns the movie, with his Michael Douglas style ability to remain fairly likable even while engaging in unlikable behavior. The final section pulls his character in numerous directions, and like Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley, we root for him to get out of the ever-tightening noose he created, and enjoy watching the ease in which he presents different sides of his personality.

At Cannes last year people settled down for a Woody Allen film, found themselves watching something quite different, and left the theatre in joyous disbelief. Word quickly spread that Allen finally made a good movie again. Well, they’re right. MATCH POINT is a different kind of Woody Allen and I would say it qualifies as a good movie, even if that’s simply because it doesn’t make any mistakes. It’s like the old Eddie Murphy joke where you give someone nothing but sand to eat for 5 years and then you hand them a cracker, they’ll feel like they’re eating a steak dinner.


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