Sunday, January 22, 2006


The first thing that I noticed about Match Point was how neatly Woody Allen lifts right out of New York and into London. ("And, playing the Hudson River, the Thames.") There's a slightly different flavor to the proceedings, but the familiar pieces are there, the well-observed verbal slights, the bourgeois fatuousness, and of course the deeply pathetic quality of the scheming, infatuated man, who I haven't seen portrayed this well since Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters.

The plot's similiarity to Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of Allen's greatest films, has been commented on a lot, but I think it's a significant change that both the husband and the other woman are written as outsiders this time around. Nola and Chris are both users, in a sense, but Chris is better at it, or has been more lucky. The mother (the excellent Penelope Wilton, last seen as Shaun's mom in Shaun of the Dead) approves of him. As a male, the fact that Chris is a relentless, if studiously passive-aggressive, social climber is not a liability for him the way it is for Nola. It's also significant that Chris never really seems to struggle too deeply with the question of whether to commit murder the way that Martin Landau's Judah did in C&M. Once it becomes clear to Chris that his lifestyle is threatened by Nola, it's more just a question of when and how.

Allen sneaks some deft little gags into the film, which announce his presence both more subtly and effectively than any Hitchcockian cameo could have. The sequence where Chris fumbles to assemble the shotgun in the neighbor's apartment is a minor masterpiece of comic logic, and such an unmistakably Woody Allen moment that I could almost hear Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing" playing off a scratchy phonograph in the background. (Also, from the moment it first becomes apparent that Chris intends to use a shotgun, of all things, I kept thinking of Orwell's Decline of the English Murder.)

Jonathan Rhys Myers and Emily Mortimer are both first-rate. James Nesbitt and Ewan Bremner as the murder investigators almost steal the movie with all of five minutes of screen time. At first I couldn't figure out whether Scarlett Johannsen was just doing a bad job acting, or doing a good job playing a woman doing a bad job fronting. Her performance didn't really gel until her post-audition drink with Chris, at which point she seemed to relax into the role, which makes sense given that 1) the character had had a few drinks and 2) could let her guard down as she confided in a fellow climber.

Anyway, I thought it was great work, if not exactly a return to form, from one of our greatest artists.

Scott Lemieux has a good review over at LGM.

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