topfivefilms.com Tuesday 18th January 2022
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Match Point (12A)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Reviewed by: James Smith

Woody Allen is famous for his comedies about life in the upper echelons of New York society, and his greatest films, Manhattan and Annie Hall, are variations on this theme. However, here he has left behind his native Big Apple and come to film a whole feature in London – but his study of disaffection among upper socialites is unchanged, and we are treated to a London that few people who live there would know.

Scarlett remained unimpressed with Jonathan's crisp new asbestos duvet cover
Scarlett remained unimpressed with Jonathan's crisp new asbestos duvet cover

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers takes the central role of Chris Wilton, an Irish former tennis pro who comes to the city to teach the rich to play. He quickly falls in with the wealthy family of one of his pupils, the toffish Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), and just as quickly ends up marrying the daughter Chloe (Emily Mortimer from Lovely and Amazing). However, by now he has also fallen for Tom's ravishing ex-girlfriend, a penniless American actress called Nola Rice (played by Scarlett Johansson of Lost in Translation). Thus, stuck between a world of unimaginable riches – the Hewett's houses in Belgravia and the countryside have to be seen to be believed, as does the flat Chris and his new bride move into, which overlooks the Thames and Westminster Bridge – and a tawdry affair with the woman after whom he lusts, he finds that happiness is not easy to obtain.

However, in a rather strange turn of events, supposedly reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment if the film is to be believed, he finds a solution to his problems. Either a quirk of fate or an absurd coincidence concludes the film, which opens by announcing that tennis matches are turned on such strokes of fortune – surely a disservice to the amount of skill also required to win a game. Regardless, I will not reveal the ending here, on the off-chance you do want to see it.

The biggest selling point for this film is its location: can Woody Allen do for our capital what he has done for New York over the years? To an extent, he can, with the greyness of the skies being his favourite aspect (hardly auspicious for London's tourist board to have the monotony of the weather so emphasised); Allen also delivers a whistle-stop tour of the city's sights: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Palace, the London Eye, Tate Modern, the Gherkin and the King's Road all feature. Even so, the sights he picks tend to be the obvious ones, and only the visit to Soho's Curzon cinema is a departure from the regular tourist trail.

Unfortunately, once the novelty of seeing London through the eyes of Woody Allen has worn off, there is little left to enjoy. The plot begins intriguingly, but becomes increasingly absurd; the final act is completely at odds to what has gone before, for no apparent reason other than the writer had to think of an ending. The acting is generally dreadful, with Rhys-Meyers particularly bad: I could never tell whether his character was supposed to be calculating and intelligent, or simply stupid, as certain plot points suggest the former but his inept performance (or fiendishly subtle one!) substantiates only the latter. Furthermore, a score is absent and replaced by various operatic pieces that rarely suit the mood or the scene – and then the supposedly opera-loving family end up going to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber West End musical!

Finally, and perhaps most galling of all considering Allen has won Oscars for his past scripts, the dialogue is truly terrible. Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton as the Hewett parents are forced to utter ridiculous phrases that only fictional characters can ever have said in England; their characters are not alone in being given unspeakable lines.

The psychological aspect of the film is not without interest, but it is such a perversion of Dostoyevsky's original intentions in Crime and Punishment that its explicit association with the novel only shows up how poorly thought through it is itself. Only Scarlett Johansson, and later James Nesbitt in an extended cameo, can make this bearable to sit through – plus a hilarious early scene in which Paul Kaye's estate agent tries to sell an extremely overpriced, rather substandard, London apartment to Chris. Probably only Allen die-hard fans would enjoy this, and to call it a 'return to form' (as many American critics have done) is an insult to other recent Allen films, such as Melinda and Melinda; I would sooner forget this and watch something of Allen's oeuvre from the 1970s.

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Length: 124 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site: http://www.matchpoint.dreamworks.com/main.html
IMDB Link: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0416320/
Release Date: 6th January 2006

Top Five Rating: 40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0%40.0% (40.0%)
User Rating: 80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0% (80.0%)

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