Richard reviews Match Point

MatchPoint.jpgI’m not a big fan of Woody Allen, and I know that probably comes as a big surprise to anyone out there who is a movie journalist, writer or someone who really loves movies. It seems that you have to like Allen because there’s some stigma attached to his movies that means when you stand there and have a discussion about them you are instantly recognised as intelligent and accepted into a group. Well I’m sorry, I haven’t liked any of his movies.

So to be quite honest, and no disrespect to the guys at The Cameo who invited me to this Press Screening, I went down to see Match Point because I was on holiday…and it stars Scarlett Johansson. I’m sorry. Despite a few negative points something happened while I was watching, something I hadn’t expected, I liked it.

It started from the opening moment, we were treated to titles before the movie, and I smirked. I really liked that, it was sort of a little sign that this is different from the other movies you’re watching, this harks back. The short introduction after the titles starts off the film nicely, and ties in much later on. It gives a little overview of what the film is about and how luck plays through our lives more than anything. Simply filmed and simply written, and yet it has a great impact both then, and retrospectively near the end of the film.

That was it, I started to like the movie already, and then Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Chris Wilton) began talking and I felt my face screw up involuntarily. His acting voice was stilted and seemed very nervous, it just didn’t sit right at all and gave quite an unnatural performance through the first half of the movie where emotions are checked and played low. It had more effect than just an annoyance though and for much of that first half I was continually pulled out of the movie because of the performance, yet there were performances that grabbed me by the throat and pulled me right in.

Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice) doesn’t start off that strong, she gives a plain but good performance, it’s really in the latter half of the film that her character turns around and becomes impassioned, giving some depth to her performance. She is undoubtedly a great actress.

Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton provide the entire Hewett family which Wilton slowly becomes a part of, and they all provide such real and utterly believable performances.

Something I noticed about the entire cast, apart from Rhys-Meyers, is their natural performance and well delivered lines. For these performances just seemed so realistic that you are drawn into them and into the heart of this family without any difficulty. It’s even in subtle lines and gestures made throughout the movie as the family members and friends interact with each other, the dialogue is natural and flowing with characters often talking over each other as in real life. Throughout the movie there’s perhaps only one line and one scene where the feeling was dropped for me, other than Rhys-Meyers first half performance of course.

Yet when the movie progresses and the mood changes, Rhys-Meyers starts to come to life and the stilted and awkward delivery fades in favour of a confused, bored and childish man. A man filled with more emotion and passion than previously seen, and it’s here where we really begin to see the driving force of the movie and where I felt myself becoming more and more impatient and anxious as to how events would turn. In fact I wouldn’t be stretching to say that I felt a growing dread, particularly when the family were together.

Let me explain, as much as I don’t like to go over a story in the review, because if you don’t know the story then why are you looking at reviews! You should have looked at the trailer at least. Anyway, I digress.

Wilton happens into the Hewett family and becomes a part of it, entering into a rich life in all aspects of the word. He is very privileged and becomes very accustomed to it. However something is either missing from his relationship with his wife, or he’s merely wanting what he doesn’t have, whichever is the real reason he becomes a passionate affair which spirals out of control.

It’s during this affair where I felt the writing, direction and the performances pull together superbly and gave me these particular feelings. If I was to be in an affair I can imagine that it would be exactly like this (to a point in the story obviously) and you can imagine the conversations, phonecalls, confrontations, lies and hard choices being almost exactly as they are on screen. I totally believed in what I was watching at this point. When the family met together with Winton carrying on the deceit, often swapping the role of husband with lover and moving directly to a scene of a clandestine meeting, those feelings of impatience, anxiousness and dread built within me.

Somehow I engaged with his character, despite the earlier negative feelings to the performance, and felt as trapped and panicked as he did. Then when the family were together I realised I had fallen into the bond of the family, and with the fantastic performance of Mortimer as his wife, making me feel nervous and concerned about what would happen to them and how they could be hurt if the affair was made public.

There are some other very good smaller roles here from British actors that you wouldn’t have expected either, Alexander Armstrong, Steve Pemberton and Paul Keye are notable comic talents in the UK, with other roles going to strong actors such as James Nesbitt, Rupert Penry-Jones, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon and Zoe Telford. Some of these were surprising to see, and all gave very good performances, albeit briefly.

The ending is very interesting, and takes a very strange turn. Luckily there’s not much notice of this and gives you a nice surprise, at which point the movie does take a different turn. It’s through this ending that the opening introduction returns bringing back the notion of luck and how it might, or might not, turn against you.

A couple of scenes here nudged my belief in the character of Wilton slightly through Rhys-Meyers performance and lines, however it wasn’t enough to damage the end of the movie which is decidedly different and quite bold in it’s final moments.

Throughout the movie, at key points, Allen utilises arias as score and also scene transitions, and in the second half these moments really come into their own when you do start to feel you are watching an operatic tragedy. It’s here where I do feel that this style came through more as a storytelling device than a background score.

Overall I would recommend this movie, despite a feeling of the first half being too long and of the negative aspects Rhys-Meyers performance, it’s an engrossing and interesting movie, one which does manage to engage and affect you right till the closing scene. Performances in the film are very strong, and had me dragged right into the movie into the minds of the characters, all except Rhys-Meyers who I found struggled with his performance.

Okay, so I’m not suddenly a huge Woody Allen fan, but I do see some excellent things in this movie and I would recommend it. Perhaps I may, very selectively, look again at some of his movies.

IMDB UK movie details
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4 thoughts on “Richard reviews Match Point

  1. Enjoyable! Wanna re-watch it again using my boxxy software. This movie surprised me when I’m accidentally found it in moods collection.

  2. Woody Allen should never have agreed to film Match Point in England. In doing so, he may have made the movie that finally divides Woody Allen’s British fans from his American fans. UK audiences will know enough about the manners and mores of the English upper classes to find watching Match Point a painful embarrassment. American audiences may simply be charmed.

    Allen presents a picture of upper class English life that has probably never existed ouside the movies. In particular, his own respect for the arts allows him to imagine but England’s wealthy are wealthy in culture too. Not so. The landed classes – what is left of them – operate from a culture of philistinism and anti-intellectualism. That means that the idea of a social-climbing Irish tennis pro working his way into their affections through a shared love of opera is nonsensical. The one moment when Allen gets it right is when Chris Wilton says to Emily Mortimer that he’s got tickets to the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but the film’s implied respect for Lloyd Webber – the idea that this too is high culture – is so laughable that it brought guffaws from the audience I saw the film with. (Note: Andrew Llord Webber may be a figure that Americans drool over; back here in the UK, he’s regarded as a vulgarian and a figure of fun.)

    Allen’s wish to root his characters in a cultural setting goes wrong again and again: in starting and ending the movie with little slugs of philosophy – the first in Wilton’s voice – and in putting a copy of Dostoyevsky into Wilton’s hand. If Wilton’s part had been played by Allen, we might just have bought the notion of a sports-playing thinker but there’s nothing in the movie to suggests that Wilton’s character has anything more going on up to than any of the other characters. Instead, they’re all long-winded, unsympathetic bores – even Scarlett Johannson who, after her one moment of flirtation at the start, gives no further evidence for why anyone would want to puruse her. Allen’s meant to be a wit, isn’t he? Not here.

    It’s not just the characters that are inauthentic, it’s the settings. There was one moment only when Allen’s movie registered the reality of modern London: a brief shot of an ugly brick-walled factory unit opposite Tate Modern. For the rest, the film limits itself to the top-ten locations for a one-day sight-seeing tour, with a few international brand names – Aspreys, Ralph Lauren – thrown in. Johannson, a failed actress who struggles to get by as a sales assistant in a small boutique, nonetheless lives in a mansion flat somewhere in Kensington and gets around town by taxi. I don’t think so.

    The inauthenticity of the film runs so deep that UK audiences will find themselves wondering whether Allen’s earlier portrayals of New York aren’t equally fabricated. And once they start teasing that thread ot, the whole skein of his oeuvre will begin to unravel. And that’s a great pity.

    The amazing thing is that no one among his backers – mainly, the BBC – had the balls at any time from pre-production to edit to intervene and, in the words of one genuine tennis pro say: Mr Allen, You Can Not Be Serious.

  3. Its unfortunate that Allen has been churning out bad movies for the past few of years. I think his early stuff is great. I’d heard good things about Match Point before your review and now I’m getting a little more excited about the film since even an acclaimed non-Allen fan enjoyed it.

    cheers,

    davej

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