This is the first Woody Allen film I’ve ever seen.
Something always put me off about the guy. Maybe his infamous personal life plays a part in my not wanting to explore Allen’s cinematic offerings, but I would chalk up my ignorance to Allen’s physical appearance. Shallow, I know. But he’s a little nub of a man who has self-indulgently cast himself as the romantic lead in most of his films. But whatever, he’s a respected filmmaker and the responsibility of being a film buff requires me to keep an open mind -… even when it comes to Woody Allen. In short, I need to shut up and start watching his films.
So along came Match Point, a severe departure from Woody Allen’s repertoire, or so I hear. Taking place in London, away from Allen’s New York City cinematic stomping ground, and featuring a mostly British cast that doesn’t include Allen himself, Match Point is a “serious” film that could even be called Film Noir in many regards. Much different than the relationship “dramadies” that Allen is so well known for.
But for this film buff looking to explore Woody Allen’s resume, Match Point seems like a logical place to begin.
Boy was I right.
Jonathan Rhys Myers plays Chris Wilton, an Irish tennis pro who gets absorbed by the well-to-do Hewitt family when he meets, and eventually marries Chloe (Emily Mortimer), the daughter of business tycoon Alec Hewitt (Brian Cox).
Chris may not care much for tennis — or Chloe — anymore, but he does take a liking to Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a struggling American actress who is engaged to Chloe’s brother. Over the course of the next few years, Chris and Nola share a lustful and tortured relationship that threatens to throw each of their lives into upheaval.
While this may sound like standard romantic movie fare, it’s not. Allen is more interested in the study of luck and fate, which hovers over Chris and Nola like a dark cloud on a rainy day. While this may take away from some of the secondary characters and what makes them tick, Meyers and Johansson do excellent jobs breathing life into their characters with subtle mannerisms and body language.
Meyers, especially, excels at showing how lusting after a woman can drive a man insane as Nola becomes Chris’ drug of choice. But we also see why Chris can’t shake Nola. All too often films throw their tortured lovers together without giving us a reason why — not here. Chris and Nola are from similar backgrounds — both former middle class drifters who are seeking greater stations in life. And even after Chris is elevated into Chloe’s upper crust family, is given a job with responsibility, and buys a flat on the Thames — he’s still determined to throw it all away to be with Nola. Well, almost.
The final third of the film takes a turn that I could have done without, but now that I look back at it, I realize that the ending is vital to the themes of luck and fate that Allen is examining. And my wanting of the movie to not change is just a nod to Allen and his success at creating engaging characters and situations that I care for and identify with.
Match Point was shut out of the 2005 Academy Awards, but Allen deserved his nomination for Original Screenplay. He knows how the British speak and what they say. He also creates characters and situations that feel real — and the decisions that are made always come from within the characters, not to service the plot. And although I didn’t want to see a character make a bold decision late in the film, I understand why he/she made it — adding another dimension to the film.
What this added dimension says about people is that we all too often love ourselves more than we love others — and our decisions about who to be with are usually based upon our comfort level in life — not on who we love.
If this weren’t the case, then every rich family man with a mistress would leave their wives to be with the woman they “really love.” Kudos to Allen for understanding this down to the root, and bringing a story to the screen that exemplifies this perfectly.
If I was forced to find a fault with the film, I would say that it could probably be trimmed down by ten or fifteen minutes, as the 124-minute run time sometimes drags. But on second thought, every scene — every shot is crucial to the story and characters and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
If Match Point is a good representation of what Woody Allen can do as a director, then I’m sure I’ll regret waiting this long to explore his films. This was easily one of — if not — the best film of 2005.
Match Point is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Being filmed on location in London, the film has a dreary, almost dreamy look to it. This results in a slightly drab picture which takes a toll on picture clarity and sharpness. Not that the image is distracting or lacking in any regard, it’s just really plain — but also very serviceable for the film.
Speaking of serviceable, the film’s Dolby Mono track may be a surprise to audiophiles so used to Dolby Digital and DTS tracks — even on films that aren’t sound driven — but Allen apparently prefers mono. No complaints here. Being a dialogue driven film, the mono track doesn’t hold back the viewing experience. Dialogue is always clear and perfectly understandable, and the limited music is always audible.
Being that this is a mono movie, I fooled around with my audio receiver, since it does have a “mono movie” function. However, this did not suit my needs as it made the movie sound very echo-y. Just leave your receiver on the standard Dolby Digital or Pro Logic surround sound setting you normally use. Believe me, you aren’t missing anything when it comes to this film’s audio track.
There are no special features
Being one of the best films of 2005, Match Point is definitely a worthy addition to any film buff’s DVD collection. It’s also an excellent jumping off point to explore the work of Woody Allen. Just don’t expect much in the way of video, audio or extra features and you won’t be disappointed.