At the beginning of Woody Allen’s Match Point, the main character, Chris Wilton, says in a monologue: “There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.”
If we consider Match Point the ball, and liking of the film the net, I dare say the film goes forward, and as such, it wins. And though luck very much factors into the storyline, it’s got nothing to do with the film’s winning qualities.
Match Point is an atypical Woody Allen film, among those I’ve seen, far more serious in tone than much of his work and packaged in the form of an increasingly dark romantic thriller. It has brief touches of humor throughout, but it is in no way a comedy. Allen’s signature style is still apparent, but his whimsy is nowhere to be found.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the aforementioned Wilton, a former professional tennis player who yearns to be among London’s elite. Raised in poor circumstances, Wilton has always surrounded himself with those of higher status, with the activities of richer folk. Operas, theatre, tennis, he claims an interest in all of them but it’s clear his passion lay in none.
In an effort to further climb the social ladder, he becomes the club pro at one of London’s finest tennis establishments, and befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), a man of means. Through Tom, he is introduced to London’s upper class, including Tom’s sister, the beautiful, single socialite Chloe (Emily Mortimer). He’s immediately smitten.
But he happens to be just as, if not more so, attracted to another woman, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring actress and American abroad — and not to mention, Tom’s girlfriend. She, like Chris, yearns for more, more, more. She’s had a taste of the high life, drank the finest drinks and received the greatest gifts, and she doesn’t want to stop sipping.
You’re right to assume things don’t work out perfectly for Chris or for Nola, but I’m not going to say just how. May there be no spoilers here — not even 8 years after the fact.
Match Point is a thriller at both its core and its periphery. What is most fascinating, then, isn’t its originality in storytelling — twists and turns abound, and they follow generally familiar beats — but rather its ability to pit various constructs of evil versus each other. Most often in stories, we have a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist, or multiple of these if the story requires. But not here.
Greed, desire, lust, and immorality rule the characters in Woody’s devious romantic thriller. Yet, if Match Point is any example, it seems that crime doesn’t always beget punishment. Justice, though a chief desire among us all, isn’t always done. This is where Allen flips the script; though bad things happen, though people trespass against others and perpetrate heinous acts, these injustices build upon each other, yes, but they don’t lead to an outcome we would expect. And it’s here that luck weasels its way into the picture, creating an ending that perfectly befits the rest of the tale.
Woody Allen is one of our very best filmmakers and storytellers. Over the last four-plus decades, he has given us countless films to think about and reflect upon, and numerous others to simply sit back and enjoy. Match Point is both at once, a thought-provoking take on themes of justice and morality but also an unabashedly compelling story of lust and crime. Turn away, you can’t, forget about after, you won’t.
Though I’ve a long way to go before I can truly affirm this statement, I have to think Match Point will stand as one of Allen’s best outings. Heck, he even thinks so.