“Frankly, my dear Scarlett, I do give a damn.”
“The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck.”
These first words from Woody Allen’s “Match Point” might as well be the movie’s thesis statement. Indeed, it’d be nice to be lucky or if not, for everybody else to be unlucky. But alas, luck is out of our grasp and therefore, we take risks just to enhance our chances. Isn’t that why we act badly sometimes? Simply being good isn’t good enough.
The aforementioned quote was spoken by the protagonist. He’s Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) – a young Irishman of modest background, who’s a tennis instructor in an elite London club. He soon trains Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a rich gentleman whom he befriends. Tom invites him to see an opera; Chris agrees at the condition he pays for his own expensive seat. He meets the wealthy Hewetts in the opera box and within the darkened theater, it is clear as day that Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) is attracted to him. And well, who was Chris of modest background to resist a well-off girl. A relationship with Chloe was just the right investment. She is sweet after all. Ah, but Nola Rice (Scarlett Johannson) enters the picture as Tom’s American fiancée. There’s just something about her that makes Chris filled with lust, and thus, making him hungry.
Chris is by no means an aggressive social climber. He wants to be a self made man, but if opportunities present themselves, then why not take some short cuts. I think the key in “Match Point” is that Chris is set-up to be a sympathetic character. He’s poor, decent, likeable, and good-looking. There’s delight in seeing him getting financially hooked up. Even when he pursues an indecent affair with Nola, there’s a part of me cheering him on. Actor Rhys-Meyers is uncommonly good. It’s no “Oscar” performance (duh, he’s not playing a real person) but he knows how to draw you into the story. He’s expressive enough so you understand Chris’ process of thought, but he also achieves the right distance to be disturbingly mysterious. When the story turns for the worst and Chris seems to run out of luck, I was so conflicted as to whether root for him or not. Had he had not been introduced intimately, Chris would have been too easy to disregard.
Infidelity has been featured in a lot of movies. In fact, Woody Allen has relied on it many times. But “Match Point” comes off surprisingly spiffy and stimulating. Allen achieves this by borrowing successful elements from past films (I was reminded of “A Place in the Sun” and Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”) and topping it with his own brand of tricks. I know now why critics hail this as one of Woody Allen’s best films. It knows how to utilize tension, stir a passionate concoction, and string together a series of shocking scenes. And it’s so freaking smart and agile – it makes other screenplays look lazy. Woody Allen hasn’t always been lucky with audiences, but look at the creative raconteur now. Because of “Match Point,” he’s not only the new Hitchcock, he’s also the new and improved Woody Allen.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton, James Nesbitt
Rated R for some sexuality