I went in to Match Point with low expectations, despite the buzz that this is Woody Allen’s best movie in 10-20 years (depends on the buzzer). I’m happy to report my low expectations were highly exceeded, although anyone who is a fan of Crimes & Misdemeanors or the oevre of Hitchcock (especially Strangers on a Train) will find themselves in familiar territory. I suppose part of Woody’s appeal is, to some, that he keeps churning the same ground. Here, perhaps just because to get the movie funded it had to be set in London instead of NY, his usual tropes feel altered and invigorated. The cast of upper-crust climbers, cads and waifs that populate this tale of marital infidelity seem to have come from the dark, Ingmar Bergman-fan side of Woody’s persona. Only two police detectives, who enter late in the story, have any dialogue resembling comedy.
Supposedly a meditation on luck, the story begins with a paean to a tennis ball poised above the net — and its even chances of falling either way. In a morality tale, we expect that tennis ball to drop, in the end, the way that provides payback for the misdeeds of the villain. But Woody, in his tightest screenplay in years (full disclosure: I haven’t seen Melinda & Melinda or Anything Else) has a larger scheme in mind. If the chances are truly even, if the more we know about the universe — as a character casually states — the more we know that it is entirely based on chance, then the ball could equally well fall undeservingly. The universe is not immoral. It is amoral.
The story’s final twist is in exact opposition to the dramatic irony we would expect from, say, M. Night Shymalan. It is ironic in its amorality. I was angry to see a crime go unpunished, but I had to admire the cool distance with which Woody is able to view the final tableau. Clearly this idea of offing an inconvenient lover is one that he thought was worth revisiting from Crimes and Misdemeanors. Clearly he has thought a lot about it — as well as about the ‘conventional morality’ opposed to someone marrying one’s own adopted daughter. And in Woody’s morality, as elaborated by Match Point, amorality is a virtue. It’s a bitter pill — one with which I can’t agree — but I have to recommend the movie for its compelling dramatization of the idea.
Outside the realm of ideas… Leads Scarlett Johansson and Jonathon Rys-Meyers are rather wooden initially, but when called upon to portray deep guilt, perform admirably. The supporting acting is fantastic. Woody’s directing is mostly pretty tight, except for a few long dialogue shots that drag. I wish he would try another font for his credits. (The guy loves his Windsor.) But I’ll discount that lack of creativity since this time he’s made a good movie.