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Game, Set and Match?
Match Point (DVD)
Member Name: Stunt 101
Match Point (DVD)
Advantages: A tense psychological thriller with great lead performances and deep metaphorical themes.
Disadvantages: Hit-and-miss depiction of the UK, thin supporting actors, some may frown at the lack of comedy.
For those who don't know, Match Point is a tennis term for the winning player being one point away from victory. Match Point, Woody Allen's 2005 film, utilises the sport to create several symbolic moments. That is just a part of why this taut, engaging thriller is great. Even if you strip the film down to the bare essentials, you still get a stomach-twisting vision of infidelity and inner-conflict fuelled by the powerful class system. And that is why it's excellent: non-active viewers can engage on a level that it just keeps you on edge constantly, while more deconstructive viewers can appreciate all of its metaphors and themes.
Match Point's premise is simple at a glance. We follow Chris, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a retired professional Tennis player. He strikes a friendship with the wealthy Tom Hewitt after an enigmatic conversation involving a love for opera. Chloe, Tom's older sister, falls in love with Chris and the two begin dating. However, things become difficult once Chris meets Nola, Tom's current fiancée. A seductive American actress, needless to say Chris falls in love with her. What Woody then begins to demonstrate is a pain-staking affair with moments of tension as Chris carefully plans Nola around his worklife. Things take an unexpected turn about twenty minutes near the end, and it's an interesting shift which still wrings tension. It's a simple plot, but Allen never hesitates to twist our stomach as he shows the psychological effects this affair is having on not only Chris and Chloe, but also Nola as she becomes frustrated.
Those who follow Allen closely known he is a director of mixed blessings. It feels like for every Manhattan he makes, he churns out mediocrity such as 2012's To Rome with Love. Match Point, however, was created after 12 years of lacklustre success, and most would agree Match Point is a welcome return to form. That being said, it's got some issues which mostly stem from the fact Allen is forced into the UK due to budget from the BBC. Almost like a tourist, Allen explores the UK with both hits and misses in accuracy, making the film feel obviously constructed at times. The appearance of James Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner near the end of the film highlight this, creating a duo of stereotypical characters which make the film feel somewhat silly, though they don't completely spoil the film. Some of the dialogue feels clunky and odd at times too, which is a shame because it's more noticeable in the grand scheme of things.
That being said, Allen's direction is still top notch. He has a knack for well-shot scenes, and this doesn't disappoint, with great visual moments such as the opening part depicting a tennis ball bouncing off a net, representing the sides of luck. Allen also cleverly integrates pieces of opera, which strangely fit their designated scenes perfectly. However, Match Point is different to his usual repertoire of films, being one of many which the director doesn't star in himself. This symbolises another element Allen has removed from the proceedings: comedy. There are very few moments which will have you laughing: instead, Allen constantly drains us emotionally and pulls at our hearts. It's not an easy film to watch, particularly if you are sensitive to displays of sex, but moreso because Allen gives such weight to the three leading cast members - Meyers, Mortimer and Johansson - that watching this seedy love triangle occur is plain difficult. You feel angry because Meyers can't commit: he is bored with Mortimer, yet he doesn't want to lose to the luxuries and high-class job which comes with her engagement, creating an intriguing debate over class.
Taking Match Point down to its simplest terms, it works as a tense psychological thriller. As mentioned, we frequently experience the psychological effects of this affair on Chris, Chloe and even Lola. You feel like it's a pressure cooker rising, waiting to explode. This is heightened by the way Allen shoots the scenes between Chris and Lola. It feels like Allen deliberately portrays both characters as sloppy, with them kissing in public and discussing their relations in public coffee shops. You feel uneasy because anyone could be listening, and that would be the catalyst needed to implode this affair. You also feel tense when Chris is around Chloe: she beings to notice changes in Chris, and the constant calls from Lola while he is with her arouse interest and suspicion. You can't help but be on edge constantly, waiting for this affair to somehow be exposed.
Perhaps that is why, then, the shift in events near the end of the film really hit you. Again, things begin to build up, and you suspect something is about to happen, but Chris' mannerisms are so unpredictable that you're unsure what he is about to do. The events which occur leave your jaw dropped, and yet none of the tension is dropped as we focus on what happens afterwards. It becomes a different ball game, yet Allen carefully leaves the audience in a state of unease despite what happens. Those who go in with analytical minds will indeed get a kick out of the tennis allegory which comes full circle, as well as the many themes of class, guilt and luck. Oh boy, does luck play such a pivotal role in this film.
Without strong actors, however, the film arguably would have failed. Thankfully, most of the talented cast seem to bring their A-game here. Rhys Meyers is perhaps the weakest. He is not awful mind you, but Allen makes it difficult for us to really like him because you sometimes feel his actions border on idiotic. That being said, you empathise with him because Rhys Meyers gives an emotional performance: you feel every ounce of conflict he does. Emily Mortimer, on the other hand, is extremely likable. Her bright, peppy performance makes her a charming character - which is cruel because you feel awful watching Meyers cheat on her. Johansson was simply outstanding, giving probably her best performance. She is cruel, seductive and yet entirely human. Her frustrations are easy to relate to because she never really acts the way she is portrayed by the cold mother-in-law. Other actors such as Brian Cox, James Nesbit and Matthew Goode have minor roles, and don't contribute a great deal to the film, but give solid performances none the less.
Match Point is a great film, and the return to glory Woody Allen needed. It's a change for sure, shying away from Allen's more comedic films in favour of cruelty and tension and this combined with Allen's tendency towards English stereotypes and clunky dialogue make Match Point dissatisfying for some. But those who go in with an open mind will find a tense, emotionally draining psychological thriller with twists and turns which leave the viewer shocked long after the credits roll. The performances are mostly tight, giving weight to the characters and making their actions more difficult to watch. Those with a passion for less violent thrillers and deeper, psychological studies will find Match Point to be sheer brilliance, and yet anyone looking for a rousing tale which requires little effort to follow will be equally engaged.
Summary: Thrillers don't get more stomach-wrenching than this.