"Match Point": Much ado about nothing.

by JD Warnock on January 17, 2006

in Print Reviews

“Match Point” has garnered some attention as a return to form for storied director Woody Allen. Several Golden Globe nominations for the film and for its increasingly ultra hip starlet Scarlett Johansson have kept this latest entry in Allen’s filmography in the spotlight. While “Match Point” may not be the standard for the worst Woody Allen movie, it certainly cannot be an example of his best. Allen’s arguably deserved place in the pantheon of great film directors and writers will not find any additional footing with the frivolous exploration of privileged British society-types that is “Match Point.”

The deliberately plodding pace of the film is nearly unbearable at times, as only in the film’s last act does the action and arch of the story begin to pay off. Coming in at just over 2 hours, “Match Point” is at times torturous in its character study of a cast of unlikeable socialites who are deluded to the existence of the real world.

Like a BBC production, “Match Point” has that distinctly “British drama” air about it, observing stuffy and inaccessible characters who seem to be teetering on the edge of moral bankruptcy at all times. The extraordinarily creepy Chris Wilton, well-played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is a former Tennis pro, deftly infiltrating the British upper crust as he struggles to find a new identity after tennis. Adultery, deception and ultimate betrayal are the business of the day, and Wilton’s ability to manipulate anything and everyone seems clever at first, but by the end of hour one has lost its appeal, becoming far less believable.

The title “Match Point” is a play on words referring both to the luck conspicuously missing from Wilton’s tennis career and to the series of fortunate events that make up the film’s climax. A rotten analogy of a ball hitting the net that could fall either way is used both as a theme of Wilton’s story and the key piece of a paper-thin puzzle that unravels only in the film’s last steps. Even with the twist that only if you had avoided all press on “Match Point” would you not see coming, the film ends as it begins– with a whimper, and the possible satisfaction, like that of a small marathon, that you made it through another so-so Woody Allen movie.

Scarlett Johansson is alluring as usual, portraying Nola Rice, an American would-be actress who, like Wilton, has found her way onto easy street as the fiancée of Wilton’s brother-in-law.  Johansson’s multilayered performance as Rice along with Rhys Meyers’ Wilton are the highlight of the film. Their chemistry is the spark that ignites what little fire there is to be found in “Match Point.”

Award shows aren’t always the best measure of quality in filmland. “Match Point” will likely continue to show up during awards season, particularly for its actors Johansson and Rhys-Meyers who are definitely the best reason to watch. However, consider yourself warned, this film is long and will only appeal to those blindly bowing at the feet of Woody Allen and anyone who has run out of VHS tapes of stiff BBC productions to rent from their local “British things” store. “Match Point” is like a tired Agatha Christie story, minus the mystery, the intrigue and the entertainment value. 

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