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Friday, December 02, 2005

 

ModFab On...Match Point

MATCH POINT
Starring: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, and Matthew Goode
Written by Woody Allen
Directed by Woody Allen
Rated:
R for some sexuality

Let's get the big news out of the way: the Cannes-fueled rumors about Match Point, Woody Allen's London-set romantic thriller, are true. The film is a surprising return to form for the venerated director, recalling (if not matching) his best work from the 80's, especially Crimes and Misdemeanors. (It is also his most entertaining film in a decade, since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway.) The austere screenplay is complemented with steady pacing and mounting suspense, and the performances from the ensemble -- including Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, and Matthew Goode -- are uniformly solid. The icy tale of infidelity and class warfare among the British elite is told with a confidence that belies Allen's New York roots; it even unearths a few genuine shocks in this oldest of human stories.

Still, MATCH POINT benefits most from its context in the director's lexicon...and more specifically, from its place at the end of Allen's widely-acknowledged slump. Compared to disasters like Anything Else and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, MATCH POINT is a breath of fresh air...which may be enough for Allen's legions of fans. More objective viewers, however, will quickly realize that despite the buzz, it isn't a masterpiece like Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters, and that a closer inspection shows a few cracks in its award-worthy veneer. The final-hour thrills are muted by a odd coda involving an officious police inspector, and dismayingly, most of the female characters inexplicably turn into shrews, wallflowers, sluts, or harpies by the film's end. The film identifies, perhaps uncomfortably, with the philandering husband (Rhys-Meyers), who exhibits more than a few disturbing resonances with Allen's own public dilemmas. It explores a romance that exhibits little honesty or tenderness; it attacks relationships with the delicacy, and the brutality, of a surgeon's scalpel. Indisputably entertaining and thoughtfully rendered, MATCH POINT is solid filmmaking....but it is not, in any sense, transformative.

What MATCH POINT lacks, then, is a soul. Most audiences, I think, will be fine with that; it is easy to forgive its dark, bland center and focus instead on its incisive commentary about the corrupting power of money and the dangers of emotional sublimation. Rhys-Meyers and Johansson have an intriguing, anarchic chemistry, and at its best their combative passion is cinematic catnip. But as MATCH POINT fades into film history (Allen makes a film a year, so in just 11 months, we'll know if the master is truly back to form), I imagine it will be admired more than adored. It is certainly cause for celebration to see an old master return to form...but the polish doesn't gleam the way you might expect.

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