After a long dry spell, Woody Allen has made a nearly perfect movie. Anyone looking for flaws in ďMatch PointĒ will be nitpicking. In a startling departure from the expected, Allen has written a terrific script full of so much tension you are likely to find your whole self tied in a knot long before the final scene.
As writer and director, Allen accomplishes this with deliberate slowness Ė all the better to immerse us gradually in the contemporary social life of upper class London while he shows us the manners and mores of its cosmopolitan young. He takes a long time to teach us how the lives of young aristocrats are spent in play. They go to the opera, they play tennis; they are sportsmen in their own game of life.
When Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) hires Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) to teach tennis at his club, the new guy in town slips seamlessly into Tomís world. Chris has the aura of the handsome athlete and a talent for teaching his sport; Tom has all the apples to bestow on the teacher. Chrisís smooth step into the culture of rich young London is easy but ominous. He marries Tomís sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), steals his girlfriend, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), and then begins to trip over the dangers that await the social climber who wants everything and gives up nothing. This is the narcissist who builds his own traps.
In this grand quartet of actors, not one overplays. Matthew Goode is perfect as the rising English gentleman, generous in spirit, loyal to the core, pure in his privilege. Emily Mortimerís Chloe is exactly the wrenchingly accommodating wife who would drive a husband away. Scarlett Johansson is the sexy American who can ruin a manís most ambitious game. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers generates a palpable blend of disgust and curiosity. They are marvelous as they bring Woody Allenís clever story to life. He creates the tension and then brings it to a boil, causing us to coil tightly over two hours while a wonderful score of opera fragments plays in the background. Only twice does the familiar Allen pop up through the fabric Ė once in a restaurant scene with everyone talking at once, once in the dialogue between two cops in a climactic scene.
We watch the claustrophobia of a purposeful but loveless marriage; we watch the players driven to their clubs, courts, and theaters by chauffeurs; Allen takes one culture, puts it under a microscope and makes us squirm at its realities. We realize an infection is about to break out in this world of perfect privilege, but we donít know what form it will take. Finally, Allen unleashes his explosion: the metaphor of the first scene is completed in the last. What is the role of luck in life? In just a few short scenes toward the end, the reinvigorated master examines betrayal, remorselessness, and the workings of a stone cold heart.
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