Match Point (Dreamworks SKG, R)

Match Point’s strengths come mostly from two sources: its near-perfect casting and the fact that the script is never quite going where you think.

 

I’ve long been indifferent to Woody Allen’s films, so his so-called “return to form” was of little concern to me. Sure, he gets away from the type of dopey, inconsequential comedies he’s been cranking out in recent years (don’t remind me of Small Time Crooks, please), and sure, it’s supposed to be a successful venture, but what’s that matter to those who aren’t crazy about his “best” films? The answer to this question is that it won’t matter much, but it should: Match Point is as good as you’ve heard, and still probably much better than you expect.

The film’s protagonist is Chris Wilton (a subtly charismatic Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a low level tennis pro who has retired from the circuit and taken a job as a tennis instructor. One of his students is Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the son of a ludicrously wealthy family, whom Chris befriends right away. Through Tom, Chris meets both Chloe Hewett (the always outstanding Emily Mortimer), Tom’s sister, and Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), Tom’s fiancée. Chris courts and eventually becomes engaged to Chloe (due in no small part to his altogether ingratiation to the entire Hewett family), but he also gamely tries for Nola under everyone’s noses.

Match Point’s strengths come mostly from two sources: its near-perfect casting and the fact that the script is never quite going where you think. Regarding the casting, Rhys-Meyers, Mortimer, and Johansson all turn in nomination-worthy performances (this may finally be Scarlett’s year). Of these three, Mortimer is especially memorable, mostly for her incredible ability to play wide-eyed innocence. As for the unpredictability of the plot, well, that’s best left for you to discover.

Don’t think that it is a coincidence that Chris is reading Crime and Punishment in the opening minutes of the film, nor that he immediately thereafter picks up the Cliff’s Notes version of the book. While the comparisons of this film to Crimes and Misdemeanors have been abundant since it first screened for critics at Cannes last May, the best and closest comparison is Todd Field’s 2001 thriller In the Bedroom. The film is much, much more than simply an infidelity drama. Even dragged against your will, this is a film you’ll be glad you saw.

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