Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen's best film in years
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Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an ambitious tennis pro in England. He uses everything at his disposal to get ahead, and not just to the top of the tennis world, but into the world of wealth and power. He starts up a love affair with Chloe (Emily Mortimer), whose father has a bottomless supply of money. We never know if Chris is genuinely in love with Chloe. In fact, we never really know anyone's true emotions for certain.
There is another woman in his life, too. Nola (Scarlett Johansson) is more vivacious than Chloe, but she has less in the way of money or prestige. Is she his true love, or just another female conquest?
Chess and puppets are both apt metaphors for Match Point. The characters are pawns, or puppets, manipulated masterfully by Allen. Form and structure are imposed by a godlike storyteller who uses the invisible hand of fate to shape the drama into a satisfying tale.
Interestingly, the main character is something of a string-puller himself. An early scene shows him reading Dostoevsky, which some critics have taken as simply a tip of the hat to Allen's inspiration. (Some of Match Point's plot is clearly borrowed from Crime and Punishment.) But the character then puts down the book and picks up the Cambridge Companion -- a sort of Cliff's Notes on Dostoevsky. Later, we learn that he was able to impress a person of influence with his knowledge of Crime and Punishment. Allen gives us strong suspicion to believe that Chris is more a cunning, ambitious man, than a student of literature.
The sheer competence with which Allen directs is enough to earn Match Point a recommendation. The structure, the storytelling, the confidence of style are all impeccably crafted. Luckily, the movie is gripping and entertaining as well as well-made. The first two thirds feel little like a Woody Allen drama, with enough comic moments to both entertain and to lull the audience into a sense of complacency. But the story is a heavy tragedy, disguised early on, but always revealing a tenor of foreboding. When the other shoe drops, the movie becomes even more riveting.
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USA/UK, 2005, in English, Color, 124 min, Rated R