Scarlett Johansson as Nola Rice
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Chris Wilton
Emily Mortimer as Chloe Hewett-Wilton
Matthew Goode as Tom Hewett
Brian Cox as Alec Hewett
Penelope Wilton as Eleanor Hewett
While Woody Allen’s thriller gets some points for looking great, it’s ultimately the same bland and lazy filmmaking that Allen’s been doing for years, only without the humor and with different accents.
Chris Wilton is an impoverished tennis instructor whose luck changes for the better when he gets a new client in Tom (Matthew Goode). He ends up marrying Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), but not before developing an obsession for Tom’s American fiancé Nola (Scarlett Johansson), leading to a deadly chain of events.
You’ve probably already heard the hype from Cannes, that “Match Point” is Woody Allen’s return to greatness, which is strange to say, because this erotic thriller set in England actually doesn’t seem like a Woody Allen movie at all. In his last movie “Melinda and Melinda,” Woody Allen took at look at the same character from comedic and dramatic points of view, but “Match Point” is completely devoid of the sense of humor that makes Allen such a beloved filmmaker, as he tries to do something different, moving the story to England and working with mainly British actors.
The film starts out well enough with the introduction of Irish tennis pro Chris Wilton, whose good luck gets him into the graces of the wealthy Tom Hewett and into a relationship with his cheerful sister Chloe. When Chris meets Tom’s American fiancé Nola at a party, he starts coming onto her over a ping-pong game, despite Tom and Chloe being in the house. Chris becomes obsessed with Nola and one thing leads to another, as they have an affair behind Tom and Chloe’s back. Eventually, Nola gets more and more demanding, and it becomes difficult for Chris to have both women in his life, forcing his hand to do something drastic.
Yup, basically it’s “Fatal Attraction” with a bit of “Cruel Intentions” mixed in, but most of all, the first half of the film is a bit like last year’s “Closer” due to its premise with obsession and secret affairs. Like that film, the lead character, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, isn’t completely sympathetic, but for the most part, his actions and behavior are fairly predictable, even though you can never get behind his decision to take such risks after lucking into such a great catch like Chloe. There really isn’t much about Nola that makes it seem that she’d be worth all of the extra effort.
Even worse, the movie desperately needs editing and not just for the length. There are just way too many bland talking heads scenes that aren’t necessary to the story, so we end up hearing many of the same conversations over and over. The movie is ridiculously repetitive spending almost an hour driving home the point that Chloe wants to have a baby, Chris wants to have Nola and Nola wants Chris to leave Chloe and be with her. To make matters worse, a few times there are obviously line slip-ups that Allen kept, rather than going for another take, and it really makes the dialogue scenes even less realistic. Still, most of those scenes could have easily been left out, while others go on for too long, like when Chloe announces she’s pregnant and it was deemed necessary to get a reaction from every single member of her family.
After an hour of no developments, the film starts to get somewhat better, as Chris hatches a scheme to fix his seemingly dire situation, but it really should have gotten to that point much quicker. The rest of the movie seems like filler, because at best, it’s an hour and a half of set-up to a Hitchcock mystery. Ultimately, there’s only one original idea and that’s the genius moment later in the film that ties back into the introductory shot and Chris’ narrative about luck. Other than that, it’s a shame to see a great storyteller like Allen falter so badly. It’s a shame since there have already been stronger thrillers with similar premises of obsession turned deadly, such as “Asylum” and Julian Fellowes’ “Separate Lies.” While time passes just as quickly over the course of Allen’s film, his characters just don’t seem to change or grow or develop as much as normal people might during that amount of time passing.
Woody’s mostly British cast isn’t that bad, and Rhys Meyers does a decent job getting the audience to empathize with the torment that the deplorable Chris Wilton is going through; at least he’s good enough that you believe the possibility of an Irishman that plays tennis and loves opera. Matthew Goode is surprisingly good in his scenes with Meyers, and it’s just as nice to see Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton–Shaun’s mum in “Shaun of the Dead”–as his parents. Too bad a lot of the scenes they’re in are superfluous and could easily have been left out.
Too bad that the film’s main weak link is the one American, Scarlett Johansson. Regardless of what her fanclub in the Hollywood Foreign Press seems to think, Johansson is pretty bad in this movie. For the most part, her delivery as the failed actress Nola is terrible, basically pulling the same sexy bored line readings she has in just about every other role she’s played. When she starts showing emotion later in the piece, her voice gets so grating that you kind of hope that someone would shoot her. Whether it’s because of this weak delivery or just bad writing, Nola never seems like a real person, especially when she tells Chris her own ridiculous back story, which almost sounds as if it were made up on the spot. Most of the scenes between her and Meyers seem forced, because they don’t really have much chemistry, while their love scenes aren’t particularly sexy. Maybe it’s because Allen’s every attempt at shooting Johansson wearing next to nothing is thwarted by the actress’ desire to stay covered up, which just makes what should have been deeply erotic scenes seem all the more awkward.
Despite the problemsand there are more that I can’t discuss without spoiling the film further–“Match Point” is a decent looking film thanks to the cinematography of Remi Adfarasin, but what ends up killing the film is the lack of a proper score. Instead, Allen uses sporadic bits of old opera music, probably since it costs less than hiring a real composer to create a proper tone, and ultimately, that’s what really hurts the film, especially the last act. It’s the type of laziness that wouldn’t be forgiven from any other director, but we deserve much better from the man who directed as many great films as Woody Allen has. “Match Point” makes it painfully obvious that it’s time for him to step aside and let someone else direct his scripts. While the clever ideas are still there, Allen just isn’t able to follow through with what’s necessary to make a decent film.
The Bottom Line:
Some may claim that this erotic thriller is Woody Allen’s best film in years, but without Woody’s trademark sense of humor, this is just a by-the-books drama that is essentially two hours of annoyingly pretentious rich people talking about nothing of importance oh, and then a murder mystery tacked on at the end.
Match Point opens on December 28 in New York and Los Angeles, before a nationwide roll-out on January 20.