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Woody Allen serves up latest film in ‘Match Point’

Graham Ebetsch | Wednesday, March 8, 2006

While Woody Allen has secured his place in Hollywood history as a comic genius, his newest endeavor proves he’s a well-rounded movie maker.

Set in England, “Match Point,” starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansen, takes an in-depth look at the lives of a tennis pro and an American actress and their relationship to a family of wealthy opera-goers. After his professional career failed to meet his hopes, Chris (Meyers) acquires a job as a tennis instructor at a London country club. There he meets his newest student, the wealthy Tom (Matthew Goode), with whom he bonds through a shared love of opera.

Chris is whisked away into the upper-class lifestyle and is invited to join Tom and his family at the opera, as well as other social engagements. Chris finds a romantic interest in Chloe (Emily Mortimer), Tom’s younger sister. The romance is short lived after Chris meets Nola (Johansen), who, to complicate matters, is Tom’s fiancée. Nola, a mentally unstable character, gives in to Chris’ advances after she experiences a nervous breakdown (brought on by Tom’s alcohol-indulging mother).

The fling is brought to a close once Nola thinks straight and realizes her devotion to Tom. Chris puts his lust aside and marries Chloe, which provides him with a better job and an extravagant house. The audience is led to believe that Chris’ romantic life and career will return to normal. Instead, a complicated love triangle consumes the movie.

Chris soon finds that Nola and Tom have discontinued their engagement, and he becomes emotionally distant once again. After a chance run-in with Nola, Chris finds himself taking on a new life of secrecy and deception. While the rest of the movie has some standard plot from other “affair movies,” there are some twists too bizarre for even the sharpest movie-goer to predict.

The most redeeming aspect of “Match Point” is the philosophy Woody Allen strives to demonstrate. The opening monologue of the movie explains the title; while Chris is a tennis player, “Match Point” is a reference to the luck involved in the actual game. The voiceover explains how when a ball strikes the net in tennis, it can fall in either direction, with a sheer matter of fate determining the victor. This specific event is shown, which bears significant meaning on its own, having a clever parallel later in the story.

The film investigates the idea that so little of the outcomes in our lives are the direct result of our actions. The characters all fall victims to luck in the end, which becomes the cementing element to the film’s success. Without this added element, “Match Point” might not have added much, if anything, to the genre.

Admittedly, “Match Point” has its flaws, starting with its pace. The movie drags for close to the first hour and a half, keeping its viewers barely engaged with beautiful scenery and the occasional moment of high emotion. This can be explained by Allen’s noticeable desire to focus more on a study of individuals and less on a Hollywood plot progression.

This creates another problem, which is that the characters never really take off. The script is not written so that the audience is aware of all the characters’ emotions and backgrounds. At times, this hinders the audience’s overall commitment to the film. However, this exemplifies Allen’s striving for a study in sociology, not a film depicting outlandish characters overcoming unbelievable obstacles.

“Match Point” is more or less a success and hopefully will challenge the viewers to think more philosophically than they might have otherwise intended, and it is definitely a film worth a second glance.