Woody Allen is back. It’s hard to believe that it has been over a decade since this brilliant director truly amazed moviegoers. “Match Point” may not be a masterpiece per se, but knowing that Allen has regained the touch that made his films so mesmerizing in his prime, is reason enough to rejoice. The film dances on the screen with operatic elegance, mind-twisting complexity and mostly believable and emotional performances. Yet, at the same time, “Match Point” feels as though it is always on the edge of brilliance, never truly reaching its potential. Allen brings about the question of luck and how moments in our lives rely on whether or ball will fly forward or backward when it hits the net in the tennis game of life. For Allen, the ball is certainly flying forward. For “Match Point,” however, the ball flies but with a force not nearly powerful enough to declare itself past the line of great filmmaking.
Chris Wilton, played by rising Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyer (“Bend It Like Beckham”), believes that life is indeed based on luck. Any man or woman can work hard, but without a little bit of luck, there is no hope in succeeding. After being raised a poor Irish boy and later becoming a professional tennis player, Chris has met both hard work and luck before. When he gives up the sport and moves to London to settle down, he is met with a dilemma; he must choose between lust and love. Will he live a life of financial stability with a rich British woman or a life of passionate lust with a young, beautiful American woman who can only offer luck as a means of income? More importantly, will Chris, a man inspired by the novel “Crime and Punishment,” be able to even make such a choice?
There is certainly a very intricate plot at work in “Match Point” that fans of the film noir style will greatly enjoy. Woody Allen fans may hesitate for a moment when they notice it is yet another infidelity themed Woody Allen film set in London instead of New York. It may also seem like the most cliched romantic drama where a man chooses between two women and then lives happily ever after. But when you put the undeniable beauty of Scarlett Johansson and her ability to add what feels like a ton of discomfort into the film’s tone, everything comes to life. All of the characters become real people; their existence becomes more than just images and back-story, but well founded personalities with sensitive emotions. Allen is able to do this at the cost of a two-hour film, but the time is never an issue when you become a member of their world.
Few directors are known for achieving such an immerse experience. Unfortunately, Allen’s faults hold “Match Point” back from reaching a level far greater, a level where films transcend meaning and become truly emotional experiences. With a Woody Allen film comes a spontaneously irritating direction style; short, pointless scenes that force your brain to simultaneously flip over in confusion and bark angrily at insignificance, blatant repetition of the film’s theme seeping through the dialogue and inconsistent acting from the main character. How is it that such seemingly minimal faults can cause such a great loss of impact on the audience? It’s quite simple, really; repetition over a two-hour period. It’s like when ads start popping up randomly on a Web site; eventually, all that your brain sees is Rosie O’Donnell and screaming children. Allen successfully teaches us how to ruin a film’s emotional impact by delivering repeated annoyances. To make matters worse, he then spikes the ball even harder with a rushed, yet still somewhat exciting, dark twist. Some portions of the film have a significant impact on the audience while others lack any foundation. When a film forgets to make the twists and turns clear, the viewer feels left out and emotionally untouched.
If watching films with a rather heavy load of character building followed by a quick sharp turn to the finish line reminds you of a Rush song, perhaps “Match Point” is best left for the rental calendar. While you’re bound to be entertained in some fashion or another, whether you will be satisfied is another question.
Nevertheless, for those interested in passionate love stories with intricate plots, “Match Point” is able to create a rewarding experience that blends a fresh dose of Woody Allen’s witty brilliance with a cast that sinks well into a sinuous world of lust, luck and love. Ultimately, however, when the tournament is at its end, the audience is tired after two hours of delightful entertainment when match point has been reached, Mr. Allen and his cast fall under pressure and simply forget how to play tennis.
The Word on the Screen: B/B+