Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox. Rated R.
When we first meet Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers),
something seems a bit off. He’s handsome enough, and his manners are impeccable
as he charms his way into the hearts and coffers of a well-to-do British
family, the Hewetts. But you can never shake the feeling that Chris is going
through the motions, that on some fundamental level he is detached from these
people, even (and especially) his future bride, Chloe Hewett (Emily Mortimer).
Formerly a journeyman tennis pro, he uses the Hewetts as a means of financing a
lifestyle that he can’t afford but can’t bear to relinquish. His emotional ties
to the family are tenuous at best.
Then he meets Nola.
Nola (Scarlett Johansson)
is also an outsider of sorts, a
struggling American actress who’s engaged to Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), Chris’
closest friend – if Chris can be said to have any friends – and future
brother-in-law. He is instantly drawn to her in an obsessive, almost predatory
manner, for reasons plainly evident to anyone with a working pair of eyes. To
have her, he will betray Tom and Chloe, and when their affair threatens his
goldmine of a marriage, he resorts to murder.
Woody Allen has been down this road before, most memorably
in 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors,
posed roughly the same questions as Match Point: Can a man commit the ultimate crime and still lead
a contented, productive life, free of guilt and consequence? If a God exists,
then surely the most vicious of sinners would not be rewarded? And if they
would, what’s the point of life in the first place?
Throughout Match Point,
which marks Allen’s finest work in nearly two decades, Chris argues that so
many of the successes and failures in life boil down to luck – sometimes the
ball hits the net and bounces over, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a valid point,
and a deft repudiation of faith-based ideologies that presume a divine plan,
some deeper meaning. Does Allen agree? There’s evidence to suggest that he
does, but that doesn’t excuse or rationalize the behavior of Chris, the
consummate sociopath who values others only for what they can do for him.
Chris displays the icy disinterest of a man who
says all the right things but means none of them, who lusts after all that
money can buy – the women, the clothing, the cars – without deriving any true
pleasure from them. For her part, Johansson is ideally cast as the perpetually
dissatisfied mistress who clings more and more to Chris for the same reason he
clings to her: It may be the only way either of them can feel anything close to pleasure.
It’s no coincidence that, early on, Chris is seen
over Crime and Punishment, for as much
as Match Point mirrors Allen’s
personal attitudes, it also recalls the tale of Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky’s
desperate, destitute protagonist who seeks his fortune by bludgeoning an aged
pawnbroker and stealing her jewelry. Chris commits a similar atrocity, with one
major difference: In Dostoevsky’s world, Raskolnikov cannot live with himself,
and admits his crime to appease his tortured soul. In Allen’s even chillier
world, the tormented souls are made out to be saps, while the unrepentant roam
free, untouched by conscience and enjoying the fruits of their sins.