Published Feb 01, 2006The criticism surrounding the four or five mediocre films that Woody Allen has churned out in recent years is somewhat debatable. To expect a man who has averaged a film per year since the late 1960s to continue a near 40-year winning streak is unfair. All of Allen's fellow directorial survivors have made errors: Spielberg's The Terminal and Altman's Dr. T & the Women. But since its world premiere at Cannes last May, the hype surrounding Match Point's status as Allen's big comeback has been loud and clear. Not that it does not deserve the applause it's a terrific film but its greatness does not so much mark a return to form for Allen as it does a turn in a very different direction. It's as if Allen himself realised the problems with his recent bumps in the cinematic road (or in the case of Hollywood Ending, a large pothole), and saw the need for change in a relatively consistent filmography.
There are certainly elements within Match Point that mark it as a work of the Woodman: its clever screenplay sprinkled with witty banter, its themes of human error most notably explored in 1989's classic, Crimes and Misdemeanors. But as a whole, Point is a much more subtle and tight film than Allen has ever offered.
The upper class socialites of London, England stand in for the intellectuals of New York as Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) finds himself in a possible position of severe social climbing when he meets Chloe (Emily Mortimer), the daughter of some serious old money (Brian Cox, struggling with his accent). Chris is sceptical of his love for Chloe, but marries her anyway, unable to turn down a life of extreme luxury. His counterpart in gold-digging is Nola (Scarlett Johansson), who is engaged to Chloe's brother, Tom (the incredibly alluring Matthew Goode). Chris has a soft (hard?) spot for Nola's "sensual lips," and thus begins a quadrangle of lies, sex and deception.
The result is a remarkably erotic thriller in a vein that hasn't come along for some time. While not particularly original, Match Point is very well executed. Allen did himself a large favour by casting some real actors (as opposed to his case of bimbo-itis in recent work: not one, but two Saved By The Bell alums Tiffani Theissen and Elizabeth Berkley were in his last few films). Johansson could probably play vixen Nola in her sleep, but that doesn't take away from the pure sultriness she expresses. Meyers' and Goode's British charm come across as the anti-Woody, and keeps their very unlikable characters more than watchable. Who knew Allen, arguably the most nervous and awkward person in show business, could write characters and a film that oozes with a sexy confidence that makes you want to take up the art of deception? (Dreamworks)