BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives pointers to Scarlett Johansson in Match Point (©2005 Dreamworks LL).
“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. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. 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."
The opening narration introduces us to a bold premise whose proof is brilliantly executed by Woody Allen’s riveting and well-crafted drama. Shakespearean in its study of human nature with all of its strengths, passions, and flaws, Match Point—whose title is a play on the winning point in tennis—delivers its meaning in layers that continue to unfold long after the movie ends.
Realizing that his pro tennis career is not destined for the top of the circuit, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) teaches tennis to London’s upper class while seeking his new vocation. As a coach to Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode), Chris gets “adopted” by Tom’s wealthy family; Tom’s sister (Emily Mortimer) falls in love with him and Tom’s father gives him a position in his company. But when Chris meets Tom’s seductive American fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), his life takes a complicated turn.
These are all the plot points you’ll ever hear from me. The less you know, the more you’ll enjoy this extraordinary movie laced with insight, tension, and a little opera, which has been Oscar nominated for best original screenplay. And for which its writer/director and its leading actor (Rhys Meyers) would have received wider recognition had the film been released between January and September during the scheduled Hollywood entertainment drought.
While Match Point dabbles in familiar issues, it’s not a signature Woody. It’s not a comedy, nor does Allen appear onscreen, nor is it staged in his beloved New York City, but in London. And most of its fine performers hail from the UK. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Bend It Like Beckham) is a casting coup whose emotional range of intensity steals the show. And whose unexpected trajectory will have you gripping your seat and might even give you a stomachache if you’re a wimp like me—not that it would stop me from seeing it again. Whether you’re an ex-fan, a non-fan, or a devotee, this uncharacteristic Woody is a moviegoer’s destination.