Woody Allen serves up a clever tale of sex, ambition, greed and deceit in his new film, Match Point. The movie has rightfully been touted as Allen’s best in years; it not only breaks out of New York, but it breaks away from the writer/director’s typical comic form. Set in London, Match Point follows the devious Chris Wilton (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers) as he climbs the British social ladder, looking for the wealth and success that have, until this point, eluded him. Chris is a poor Irishman who appeared on the pro-tennis circuit as a good, but not amazing, player. After landing a job as a tennis instructor at an elite club in London, he quickly befriends the wealthy Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) who opens his pocket and his home to the fledgling tennis star. 15-Love, Chris Wilton.
From this point on, luck becomes an essential companion to the main character. “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,” Allen said. “With a little luck, it goes forward and you win…or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.” Throughout the film, the audience watches nervously as the tennis player’s serves continually hit the net, waver and finally fall in and out of his favor.
As Chris’ relationship with Tom grows, he is introduced to the latter’s family – and fortune. Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) falls in love with the Irishman’s confident smile and charm, offering him a position in her father’s office. 30-Love, Chris Wilton.
At a countryside party thrown by the Hewett’s, Chris is introduced to Tom’s American girlfriend, Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Her sensual lips, raspy voice and overwhelming sexiness capture Chris, whose girlfriend quickly becomes an afterthought. This is understandable, however, for Johansson and Rhys-Meyers’ characters have a connection that is lacking in their respective relationships. Both are poor outsiders who have been thrust into a society that values wealth, conservatism and all things British.
A struggling actress, Nola leans on Chris for constant support and encouragement. When this support blossoms into a full-fledged affair, Chris dangerously juggles his time between Chloe and Nola. At one point the tennis player desires Johansson’s company so much that he substitutes a romantic night with Chloe for a casual movie with both women! As the relationship grows and Chris becomes more and more obsessed with Nola, he is forced to make a decision: quit Nola and lose out on great sex, or quit Chloe and lose out on the money and comfort that she has provided. 30-15, Chris Wilton.
Just as Chris is about to choose between lust and comfort, he is hit with some surprising news. Choosing not to allow luck to play a role in how the news will unfold, the tennis player takes matters into his own hands. Screw the ball, screw the social climbing game; he has come too far to lose it all. A climax is reached, and the denouement is quick. Rash decisions are made and the audience sits surprised and overwhelmed at the twists and turns that Allen provides in the final 15 minutes of Match Point. 40-30, Bad luck.
In Woody Allen’s film, the only thing more impressive than the plot is the actors. Rhys-Meyers has a charming yet devious stare that fits his character. Throughout the film, one is unsure whether his decisions are made out of true passion for the other characters or out of selfish ambition. Johansson is, as one audience member noted, “walking sex.” She lights up the screen in every scene, never allowing one’s attention to wander past her overtly sexual frame. Both Goode and Mortimer give solid performances as children brought up with, and blinded by, money. Throughout the film, one feels sympathy for Mortimer’s character, Chloe, for she trusts too much and knows too little.
When the movie ends, the themes are glaringly apparent and unbelievably unsettling. Woody says of the film’s major theme, “We all like to think that we have so much control over our own lives and our destinies … You always hear people saying, ‘I make my own luck.’ We think if we work hard we will succeed and, yes, hard work is important. But people are afraid to admit how contingent their lives are on chance and luck.”
The role luck plays specifically in the final minutes of the movie leaves one feeling a bit uncomfortable and, even more, helpless. Why do we plan things out or stress so much when destiny is out of our hands? Is it the balls we are dealt, not how we play the game, that thrust us forward? Allen’s movie refreshingly highlights the themes of luck and chance, and the director certainly deserves the commercial and critical success he has received. Good match, Woody.
Match Point is currently playing at the Manlius Art Cinema and at the Carousel Mall’s Regal Theater in Syracuse.