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ISSUE 119 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/3/2006

Woody Allen faults with 'Matchpoint'

By Jason Zencka
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 3, 2006

The protagonist of Woody Allen's most recent film, “Match Point,” is in love. He is also married. And no, he is not in love with the woman to whom he is married. What a movie that might make!

Chris Wilton, the film’s protagonist, played here by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Bend it Like Beckham,” “Vanity Fair”), is a poor Irish tennis player married to Chloe (Emily Mortimer) for reasons of pecuniary convenience. It is a passionless marriage, in which corporeal duties are performed “out of routine.”

At the same time, he is in love with a woman named Nola, played by Scarlet Johansson, for reasons that need not be elaborated upon here (if it isn't an a priori assumption for you that, given the necessary proximity, one will immediately fall in love with Scarlett Johansson, then perhaps this is not your movie).

Of course, he has the sultry affair with Johansson, all the while continuing to advance in the cushy career his father-in-law has provided him. And perhaps for Meyers' Chris Wilton, in that brief moment of rapture, all is well.

Soon enough, however, Nola becomes pregnant and demands Chris make good on his promise to leave his wife and run away with Nola into financial obscurity. The excrement, as they do not exactly say, is about to hit the fan.

What to do? Chris can not leave the chauffeured lifestyle of upper-crust London he has so recently been initiated into, but Nola is threatening to publicize their affair and ruin everything if he does not do just that. Needless to say, Chris comes up with a solution, and one that turns out to be chillingly efficient. The problem solved, Chris goes back to his wife and lives happily ever after.

And there's our movie. Now what of it? Certainly Allen is able to keep the viewer's attention. His thriller is expertly constructed and, working outside of his garrulous wit, he seems to take a perverse pleasure in turning the screws on his audience.

Certainly this disturbing film lends some hard insight into the ways our ethical systems can make dastardly marriages of convenience with Machiavellian violence, but is that enough to make it good?

One might argue, in fact, that it is too much. Allen's message is present enough to be oppressive. We see it in Meyers' preachy voiceover, in thumpingly placed shots of Chris reading critical commentaries of Dostoevsky's “Crime and Punishment.”

At times, in fact, the whole project seems to chug with the clunky deliberation of a director artlessly working out an existential equation. Once his point is made he has left us with nothing convincing or resonant in his story. It is a story rigged up on perfunctory plotlines of convenience; his characters are grim and colorless figures drawn with a cruel intellectual efficiency.

Most peculiarly, Allen has made this point before. It will not go unnoticed by his devotees that “Match Point” bears a striking resemblance to his masterful “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That movie was great. It did not force an ethos upon you, but allowed you to question characters you had come to respect, even love.

With “Match Point,” it seems like Allen has fallen the way of his antihero. Are we to believe that the buoyant human energy that propelled such moral curiosity in Allen's earlier films has really become just a matter of routine? If that is the case, forget “Crime and Punishment.” This is the real tragedy.

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