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Moriarty Serves Up His MATCH POINT Review!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I’m as shocked as anyone is that I’m about to rave about this film, but it deserves it. It’s the strongest film that Woody Allen’s made since HUSBANDS & WIVES, and it may be one of his very best films overall. It’s a major accomplishment, and part of what makes it so great is how deceptively simple it looks.

If you wanted to describe this film in shorthand, I guess you could call it Woody Allen’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) starts the film as a bit of an enigma. Closed off to the point of being guarded, he’s hired as a tennis pro at an exclusive club in London. He speaks a bit about his past as a professional player, but he seems resigned to the idea that he was never going to be a world-class competitor. Rhys-Meyers is absolutely perfect for the role, as if Allen crafted it for him, starting with his physical appearance. There’s something vaguely reptilian about his heavy-lidded eyes, his perma-sneer lurking just below the surface of even his warmest smile. He looks like he’s constantly sizing up anyone he’s talking to, and that certainly seems to be what Chris is doing. He uses his time with the clients of the club to gradually insinuate himself into London society, and hits the jackpot when he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). Tom’s one of those guys who has it all, and who makes it all look easy. His father Alec (Brian Cox) is a self-made millionaire, and Tom’s doing his very best to enjoy the lifestyle that affords him. When he learns that Chris is an opera fan, he invites him to join the family in a box seat. Chris is introduced to Chloe (Emily Mortimer), Tom’s sister, and things begin to fall Chris’s way. Chloe takes a shine to him immediately, and the rest of the family approves. They see Chris as a hard worker, a guy who is making his own way in the world, and they welcome him into family outings with open arms. During a weekend at the country house, Chris meets Tom’s fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), which is where things start to sour for everyone. Chris and Nola recognize something in one another, something that separates them from the Hewetts and which also brings them together.

Chris may be absolutely crippled with lust for Nola, but he’s no fool. He ends up married to Chloe, and he takes a job working for her father’s corporation. He proves to be quite adept as he makes his way up the social and business ladders quickly, but the whole time, he’s still got his eye on Nola. She and Tom split up, and for a while, she vanishes. When she does finally return, she sets off a chain of events that lead to a truly shocking conclusion, something I’ve never really seen Allen try before. To see this 70-year-old filmmaker add new colors to his palette so successfully is inspirational, proof that you can never discount someone just because of their last film or their age. I’ll admit it... I’ve been disenchanted with Woody for a while now. Not because of stupid personal gossip, which doesn’t interest me, but just because of the films themselves. Out of the ten movies he made prior to MATCH POINT, there are only three that I would willingly revisit. Even worse, there are a few that were so bad that I have trouble reconciling them with the rest of his filmography. It’s been a rough time to be an Allen fan. This movie seems to willfully eschew almost everything we’re used to seeing from him, though, and the change in location and in subject matter and in cinematographer (Remi Adefarasin does tremendous work here, and I’m pleased to see that he also shot SCOOP, Allen’s next film, as well) all seem to have shaken him out of whatever bubble he’s been in.

The film opens with a shot of a tennis ball being volleyed back and forth, just barely clearing the net each time. When it finally does hit the net and bounce straight up into the air, it freezes and Chris speaks in voice-over about the role that luck plays in our lives. It’s a great moment and it effectively sets up the main theme of the film, but more than that, it sets up a payoff that doesn’t come until late in the movie, a visual echo that actually got a round of applause from the audience I saw it with. That callback is an audacious moment, and it brings the film full-circle in such a great way that you can’t help but smile even though truly horrible things are going on at that moment. Sometimes, in a great film, simply watching a plot point fall into place is enough to get you excited, and MATCH POINT is expertly built. This might be Woody’s tightest overall script since HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, without even an ounce of fat or a wasted scene.

Be warned, though. MATCH POINT is a sinister bit of business, all things considered. I’m reminded of the Monty Python sketch where the police visit the maker of a line of grotesque chocolates like Crunchy Frog. MATCH POINT is a Spring Surprise, if you’re familiar with the sketch, sweet on the outside, but ready to tear your face open as soon as you bite down. There’s a hopelessness that starts to set in as the film progresses, and the ending doesn’t offer you an easy out. Allen has long since gotten over the idea that you have to be punished for your sins by some external force. In the world of MATCH POINT, it is possible to sin and then simply step back into your life. It all comes down to luck. That’s a deeply cynical point of view, but Allen sells it with authority, and he has set up the perfect way to illustrate his point. What lifts this above some of his other recent pictures is the way his cast actually brings his characters to life here. Thankfully, there’s no Allen surrogate this time, no one doing their version of Woody’s cadence and mannerisms. Rhys-Meyers is, as I said, very good in the film, and Matthew Goode strikes me as a pretty major discovery. He’s done a few small films before this, but he’s great here, perfect at communicating that mix of cocky arrogance and arrested infantilism that comes from growing up overprivileged. Emily Mortimer taps the same thing as his sister, and she does really subtle physical work. She’s striking, and she’s done her share of frank sexual scenes in films like YOUNG ADAM and LOVELY & AMAZING, but here she seems like one of those girls who has a great body but has no idea how to wear it. She walks awkwardly, and she wears her self-esteem (or lack thereof) on her sleeve. Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, is a maneater in the film, a wreck in her personal life who is fully aware that the one thing she’s got going for her is sexual charisma. I’m amazed at the way she’s grown into herself. When I first noticed her in GHOST WORLD, she struck me as the frumpy friend, not terribly interesting. In MATCH POINT, she’s a revelation, alive and strong and contradictory at times. She’s needy but independent, unconcerned with the opinions of others but looking for approval. It’s a rich performance that will no doubt get her more work with world-class filmmakers in the years to come, the sort of role that leapfrogs an actress ahead of almost everyone else in her age range. I’m not surprised she’s working with Allen again in SCOOP, since there’s a palpable artistic chemistry between them, and I hope their next film is just as rewarding.

It seems strange to praise a filmmaker as accomplished as Allen is for making a great movie by simply doing the opposite of what he normally does, but that’s exactly why MATCH POINT works. By stepping outside his own comfort zone, Allen forced himself to reconnect with the basics of filmmaking: story, performance, visual stylization. The result is one of the best adult films of the year, a sleek moral quagmire that will no doubt be compared to crap like FATAL ATTRACTION, but which outclasses it in all regards. This is smart, sophisticated entertainment, and when it opens in limited release at the end of December, then rolls out wider in January, you’d do well to seek it out.

I’m updating my DVD blog today, and I’m also working on my review of THE NEW WORLD as well as a short interview with Joss Whedon, so I’ll see you back here sooner rather than later. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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