Watch the trailer (at apple.com).
Has Woody Allen finally forsaken Manhattan? In this, his first film to be shot entirely in Britain, he both literally and creatively ventures into new territory (with the same old credits, of course). The last two films of Allen's I saw -- Melinda Melinda and Anything Else -- were physically tortuous. Match Point, thankfully, was not. Although the psychological thriller was so suspenseful at times that I did want to get up and leave the theater.
The two leads, Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, whose collective pouts alone could spark a new trend in cosmetics, are excellent as Nola and Chris, two lovers who enter into an illicit affair; their chemistry is palpable. Chris is an Irish ex-pro tennis player with working class roots who forsakes competition and becomes a tennis instructor at an exclusive club in London. While there he meets Tom Hewitt (Brian Cox) and the two hit it off famously. Tom introduces Chris to his sweet, wide-eyed sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and they begin to date. But not before Chris also meets Nola, Tom's feisty, sexy fiance. She's the kind of woman that can stop traffic with a single glance, wrap a man around her little finger in a matter of seconds and destroy lives with a kiss.
Ah, the femme fatale. A favorite figure in many a movie. While watching Nola in Match Point, I was continually reminded of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction. They both possessed the same dangerous allure. The kind that says "stay away from me if you are smart" but to which men, nonetheless, are attracted like moths to a flame. To me the femme fatale character always represents the unknown and/or the unattainable. They are the object little boys are told as three-year olds never to touch, which, in turn, makes them obsessed with doing so. They are the knowledge you are not allowed to taste, which just makes your mouth water for it. And Chris cannot resist. Allen, however, takes the notion of the dangerous female and turns it somewhat on its head.
However, the MOST intriguing aspect of this movie to me was the issue of class. Chris and Nola both come from working class backgrounds while Chloe and Tom come from an extremely wealthy family. They are very nice and not snobby but their privilege practically drips off them. This was most glaringly obvious with Chloe who took on Chris like a pet charity project by asking her "Papa" -- the disgustingly puerile term with which she calls her father -- to simply get him a job in one of his companies although he lacked any business experience whatsoever and didn't even want to particularly go into that field. If I worked at one of those companies, I would have been pissed. It was nepotism to the extreme.
While Chloe is sweet and all, she has no sense of the working world. For her it's as simple as asking papa and -- voilá -- a job magically appears. And whenever Chris cannot afford something, their 10,000-pound a week flat for example, Chloe is always there to quip, "Well, Papa is more than happy to help." Long before Chris had an affair, he was already emasculated, or rather de-humanized, by Papa. Meanwhile, Chris and Nola have struggled their entire lives just to make rent. Perhaps this class connection was another common denominator between the two. But in this story, as in much of reality, wealth wins.
Which leads me back to my initial point. Why did Woody Allen decide to leave his beloved New York and go all the way to England to film this movie? It's certainly not easier to make a movie there, as it's significantly more expensive to do so. Are British actors (sans Johansson) easier to work with?
The immediate difference between this film and his others really struck me. It didn't even LOOK like a typical Woody Allen flick; and the director/writer/actor infamous for putting himself into his own work did not even make an appearance here. I guess he's finally growing up, branching out and changing with the times; it's something we all have to do at one point or the other, right? No matter how much you try to resist, things always change. In this case, at least, it was for the better.
Match Point opens January 6, 2005.
Get theaters and show times (at sfgate.com).
IMDB entry for this movie