“Match Point” sees veteran New York director Woody Allen shifting his gaze to London, in a tale of temptation and intrigue set against the ever dependable backdrop of the English class system. Unfortunately, the results are decidedly less than inspiring, as Allen populates the film with a set of laughably two dimensional characters, none of whom are believable, or even remotely interesting. Matters are made worse by dull plotting, ludicrous and stilted dialogue, and a bizarre avoidance of the potentially thrilling plot elements which could have at least dragged the film to the level of being entertaining trash. Instead, what we are left with is a stupefying and desperately overlong slice of melodrama which fails utterly to grasp its subject matter and which is likely to disappoint even the most ardent fans of the director.
The story follows Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, recently in Oxide Pang’s “The Tesseract”), a professional tennis player turned coach to the rich, who has designs on moving up the social ladder. Although his behaviour suggests nothing of the sort, the viewer is at this point informed that Chris is a devious soul through repeated shots of him reading Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, as well as its study guide. Sure enough, he ingratiates himself into the company of the fabulously rich Hewett family, and into the arms of their desperate and lonely daughter Chloe (Emily Mortimer, also in Ronnie Yu’s “The 51st State”).
Unfortunately, all of Chris’ plans start to go awry when he finds himself unable to avoid the charms of Nola (Scarlet Johansson, “The Island”) a young American actress who just happens to be engaged to Chloe’s brother. The plot progresses exactly as expected as the two outsiders begin a torrid affair, which quite obviously has dire consequences for all involved.
The main problem with “Match Point” is that Allen, who has spent most of his career studying the peculiarities and quirks of his fellow Manhattanites, relies here instead on the same cardboard Hollywood stereotypes of the English upper class which have been populating costume dramas for years. The characters seem to exist in a fantasy land where all they do is swan around art galleries, restaurants and country estates, sipping champagne and talking about ‘mummy and daddy’. He makes no attempt to explore the genuine class tension inherent in British society, seemingly content to follow along the same lines as “Titanic”. As a result, a lot of the film is unconvincing at best, and at worst, laughable and completely free of insight.
This gaping void at the film’s heart leaves no real room for character motivation, and as such the viewer has no real feeling for why Chris is so desperate to join such an obviously and painfully lifeless group of people. Without any background to or explanations of Chris’ supposedly all-consuming desire to rise in society by any means necessary, the narrative is thus without any kind of compelling protagonist, and so rapidly becomes tedious.
The same is true of all the characters, especially Johansson’s Nola, who does little more than alternate between pouting and ranting. Matters are not helped by the script, which is filled with groan-inducing dialogue and which serves only to hammer home the film’s vacuity. For some reason, Allen seems to believe that using tennis as a sporting metaphor for the luck inherent in life is an original gambit, and so the viewer is treated to endless variations on the theme, giving the film the distinct feel of a British “Forrest Gump”, drunk on sherry and spouting tiresome platitudes with a clipped accent.
The final nail in “Match Point’s” coffin is the fact that the film moves very slowly, and little actually happens until the last half hour, at which point the story laboriously hurtles into thriller territory. Allen appears to have little interest in generating excitement of any kind, and instead goes for a light-hearted, almost flippant approach which leaves the viewer horribly under whelmed.
“Match Point” is a feeble effort, which sees Allen fumbling around in a world which, though not so different to his own native Manhattan, he nevertheless fails to bring to life. Through his witless use of stereotypes and his determined avoidance of excitement and interest, Allen has created a film which would feel more at home as an hour long television drama, and even then, one which is unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone who does not find themselves stunned and shocked to learn that British society has a class system.
Woody Allen (director) / Woody Allen (screenplay)
CAST: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers….Chris Wilton
Alexander Armstrong …. Mr. Townsend
Paul Kaye …. Estate Agent
Matthew Goode …. Tom Hewett
Brian Cox …. Alec Hewett
Penelope Wilton …. Eleanor Hewett
Emily Mortimer …. Chloe Hewett Wilton
Scarlett Johansson …. Nola Rice