Match Point Review
What a truly wretched film. I’m not sure whether American critics heralded Match Point as a return to form for director Woody Allen because they were oblivious to the film’s touristy view of London and the script’s stolid dialogue or simply because, following the quick glimmer of hope offered by 2004’s Melinda and Melinda, they were desperate to announce the veteran filmmaker was finally back on track. On the evidence of Match Point, he isn’t; he’s simply recycling ideas from some his previous, better, films and hoping that the novelty of setting the action in London will keep us from noticing. The plot concerns social-climbing tennis coach, Chris (Jonathon Rhys-Meyers), and his infatuation with the sultry Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an American expat struggling to find work as an actress. The catch is that Nola’s already engaged to Tom (Matthew Goode) and Chris is involved with Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Tom and Chloe’s family have a lot of money so… mercenary Chris weds Chloe but continues to see Nola on the sly (believe me, that’s not a plot spoiler).
Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the film, script aside, is that everybody is hugely unlikeable. Actually come to think of it that’s not the problem at all - nasty characters can make for great entertainment - the real flaw is that everybody’s both unlikeable and either criminally dull or relentlessly irritating. In the latter category there is Chloe who simpers, fusses and offers banal opinions about art at every available opportunity and in the former there is… pretty much everyone else. The wealthy characters seem to be defined entirely by their bank balances - an opportunity for satire but Allen doesn’t seem to have any quibbles with this moneyed elite; they simply exist on the periphery whilst Chris and Nola take centre stage and alternate between throwing temper tantrums and gazing vacantly at one another (perhaps trying to decide once and for all which of them has the better pout). The actors all look slightly pinched and embarrassed, as though realising that the dialogue that appeared just about feasible on paper sounds utterly ludicrous when verbally expressed. At best the dialogue is bland and platitudinous; at worst it’s riddled with solecisms (does Allen actually know how English people speak?) and unintentionally hilarious. Some favourite howlers include the ridiculously expository ‘Now, what’s a beautiful young American ping-pong player like you doing mingling among the British upper-class’ and the laughably solemn and credulous ‘the man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life’.
The script is complemented by almost uniformly dire acting. Rhys-Meyers is callow and aloof and makes for a very uninteresting protagonist. In one scene he’s supposed to be wheedling Chloe into going to the cinema with Nola and Tom. I think the intention was for him to look like he was forcibly suppressing his eagerness but instead he just appears exaggeratedly pained, as though he desperately wanted to scratch an itch but was being prevented from doing so. For the life of me I can’t understand what all the fuss is about Johansson’s acting ability. Here she has two modes of performance (one for each half of the film): to begin with she lumbers somnolently through her dialogue, as though in a drug-induced torpor, later she morphs into a gratingly shrill, ‘chain-smoking mistress from hell’ (Tim Robey, The Times). Perhaps had less time (and money) been spent on her glamorous outfits and more attention given to her character development, she might have been fractionally less two-dimensional. Even their sex scenes are risible - a sort of PG-rated imitation of 9 ½ Weeks. Doubtless the film has something intellectual to say - the fact that Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ is ostentatiously flaunted near the beginning certainly suggests so - but the film ultimately feels clumsy, pretentious and lazily put together. For two thirds of its duration Match Point listlessly trudges forward, nothing of particular significance or interest occurring, before Allen hastily grafts on a thriller narrative and Chris is bizarrely transmogrified into a crummy imitation of Tom Ripley. The film belatedly gains dramatic momentum but the possibility for one genuinely good scene - a creepy nocturnal battle with Chris’ inner-demons - is quickly stymied by drab philosophising. When a character intones without a trace of irony ‘As Sophocles once said’, you know you’re in trouble.
Well I can’t deny Match Point looks nice: sleek cinematography and a lot of unnaturally burnished interiors. The video transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The image is good, if unexceptional. The main flaw is that the image tends to look rather softer in long-shots than it does in close-ups but it’s mostly clear and relatively sharp. The soundtrack is presented in mono (Allen’s preference) and, whilst unlikely to give your sound system much of a workout, the maudlin arias that comprise the soundtrack are rendered with unfortunate clarity.
Typical of a Woody Allen DVD there are no extras, save for some trailers for unrelated films.
One of the recurring features among reviews of the film upon its release was the tendency to enthuse about how if his name hadn’t been on the credits no one would have realised this was a Woody Allen film. If anything the film bears something of resemblance to Mike Nicholls' Closer (only without the profanity or even the vaguest sense of humour) sharing with it a picture book version of London, insufferable protagonists and a smug conviction of its own hard-bitten cleverness. This DVD release is fittingly, if unsurprisingly, sub-par.