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:: Match Point

Many film observers have lamented the fact that, despite promise of a return to form in “Melinda & Melinda”, director Woody Allen has not made a memorable film for many years. His fans can be well and truly pleased now, because “Match Point” is one of the most impressive and enjoyable films I have seen in recent times. Surprisingly, it is presented in a way that is unrecognisable from Allen’s previous body of work – the film is set in London and the cast is mostly British.

The important ingredient that makes the film click is the minimal comedy. This is a character piece that results in a clever, suspense thriller. The ending is unexpected.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a tennis player who has signed to become an instructor at a top British country club. One of his ‘students’ is Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode), who, in his affable style, makes friends with Chris and, knowing of his love of opera, invited Chris to the opera one night and to meet his family. Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) takes a fancy to Chris and Chris starts to think about the benefits of being part of a rich family and steps into a liaison with her.

However, there is another player in the picture. Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) is Tom’s fiancee. She is a gorgeous and headstrong blonde American who is struggling to find work as an actress. Immediately, Chris is smitten and then obsesses with Nola.

Chloe’s father (Brian Cox) offers Chris an important position in one of his companies, thereby setting things in stone for Chris as he now prepares to marry Chloe. Chloe’s mother (Penelope Wilton) continues to discourage Tom from marrying Nola and it eventually leads to a break-up. Whatever the link between Chris and Nola’s humble backgrounds as opposed to the upper crust of British society, there is star-crossed attraction. Despite this, Chris married Chloe in a big ceremony.

Chris is a flawed individual who sees the benefits of climbing the social and business ladders, and leading a comfortable and calculated lifestyle. Chloe had longed for a husband and to start a family. Now, though, Chris’s passionate lust for Nola sets the film’s path intricately. The question remains: can Chris give up what has fallen at his feet and succumb to the sexiness and irresistible charm of Nola. It reaches a dramatic and riveting conclusion.

The script is intelligent and polished but it is also playful in teasing the viewer towards an unlikely ending. Allen reveals “Match Point” to be a film about the tragic and melodramatic. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers effectively portrays the frenzied, competitive man, torn between two women and two ways of life. Scarlett Johansson develops a radiance and compelling beauty that will make one melt. She gives substance and charisma to a character that devolves from ravishing to bitter. The close-up shots of her are beautifully shot. The supporting actors also do a fine job in building the story.

It is worth noting a couple of aspects. The start of the film shows a tennis game where the ball hits the net and one is unsure whether it will drop forward or back, such is the luck of the bounce. It brings to the film the concept of “chance”. Secondly, the music that Woody Allen provides – operatic arias majestically sung by Enrico Caruso – gives the film emotional effect.

The rights and wrongs of the story are told in epic form and the ambiguity contained is why “Match Point” is a memorable film. A new scenario for Woody Allen brings a newfound direction and film lovers should be pleased.