Woody Allen is back in the game and he has a “Match Point” in this one. Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a young man who wants to make something out of his life, quits his professional tennis player career, becomes a tennis instructor and quickly moves on once he meets Tom (Matthew Goode) and his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris starts dating Chloe but is secretly in love with Tom’s fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson).
Torn between a posh upper-class lifestyle with all its luxury and his lust for Nola, Chris is contemplating his possibilities to have both and give up neither. A lot of it depends on chance as the movie points out in the very beginning with an analogy to a tennis ball hitting the net. Whether you lose or win depends on where the ball will land: pure chance – the movie’s main theme.
“Match Point” comes with pretty heavy stuff as in the Greek tragedies. It starts with a prologue, followed by the protagonist (tragic hero), his “journey” and his catharsis. The plot follows the same pattern as in the classic Greek tragedy of “reversal”, “recognition” and “suffering”, i.e. at first the story unfolds in one direction up until Chris learns that Tom has broken up with Nola, the news at first seems good, but later on is revealed to be disastrous. This is where the “recognition” phase sets in which constitutes a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate.
Recognition scenes in tragedy often involve some horrible event or secret and Woody Allen makes sure of this in “Match Point”. The “suffering”, the third element of the plot is “a destructive or painful act” in which the hero undergoes his catharsis that will lead to the heroe’s end. This is marked by Chris’s inner monologue at the end of the movie.
The soundtrack is supportive of the emotionally ever changing (back and forth as in a tennis match) and tragic journey of the main characters and is never obtrusive yet it never shines either. The setting is contemporary upper class London leaving out all the rest and as such might be hard to recognize as London proper, the cinematography is flawless though. It certainly is one of Allen’s best films in years. Whether he will get an Oscar for it or not remains to be seen. Speaking of Oscars 2005, I’d nominate Scarlett Johansson as best actress any day.
With all that praise come some quid pro quos though. The film drags at various points and could have used some more cutting for better pacing. It’s a rather somber piece that could have used just a little bit more humorous scenes. It does have its plot twists which you could argue are not realistic but then again what are the chances of realism here anyhow? Scarlett Johansson in pants? Sold. Johansson also acts in Woody Allen’s next picture “Scoop“, which is being filmed at the moment.