If you want something to think about revisit
‘MATCH POINT’ directed by Woody Allen
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
Woody Allen returned to his best form, with “Match point” (2005).
I loved “Blue Jasmine” – especially the remarkable performance of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, the woman unravelling, but clinging to what’s left. Woody Allen’s dramas enthrall me.
There are reminders of his earlier film “Crimes and Misdemeanours”, where he also explored the darker side of human nature. Woody Allen is one of the world’s best-known film-makers. For more than thirty years, he has frequently been nominated for major awards, and has won several of the coveted gold statuettes. He has always been thought of as a genius of comedy, but has sometimes ventured into the most vexing of humanity’s existential shadow-areas. In fact the human condition has always been his theme, both in comedy and drama, as he explored our anxieties, insecurities, ambitions, dreams, disappointments, weaknesses and strengths. In some of his past films Woody fooled around a lot at times, but there was always an underlying theme about which he was deadly serious. Match Point”, made in the UK in 2005, asks the big question – do our lives depend upon random chance? It’s posed in the opening sequence, with an evocative image of a tennis ball, which hits the top of the net and is hovering in slow motion above it. On which side will it fall? What decides this? Near the end a similar image is repeated to remind us of the mysteries of choice and fate.
As soon as the final scene of the film was over, a burst of conversation broke out within the cinema where I saw the film, and Woody had obviously hit the ball fair and square with this one! Everyone alive wants to know the answer to the question – how much control do we really have over our lives?’ Or do we just think we can control things? We have all seen or heard of instances of sudden strokes of fate annihilating someone’s plans or even their lives. Perhaps in Western cultures the question is even more acute, as there is something of a crisis of faith and there is a lot of re-thinking about religion and spirituality in progress. However in traditionally religious societies such as Indonesia, many people may tend to attribute all these difficult things to being “God’s will”, thereby avoiding having to wrestle with the matter of why things happen the way they do.
The film unfolds in British street locations, as well as art galleries, opera houses, country homes and gardens of the upper classes. Impeccable manners, lifestyles, accents, and more than a hint of British class snobbery, mask underlying ruthlessness. As the seasons change we watch the social climbing progress of Chris, (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a handsome, smooth operator from a poor Irish background who has big ambitions and a shrewd eye for the main chance. He has come to this point in his life using charm, intelligence to re-make himself, and a talent for tennis.
Chris knows how to make the best use of the talents he received in the genetic game of chance. Pretty soon he has risen from a professional tennis-coaching job at a posh London club, to the life of a well-off young man about town. This comes via a strategic friendship made on the tennis court and an even more convenient marriage to his new friend’s sister Chloe, (Emily Mortimer). The family is rich and the new in-laws like Chris enough to overlook his humble social background. He seems to have a charmed life.
But just one thing is threatening to create a disturbance in this perfect arrangement. During his ‘upwardly mobile’ journey Chris “falls in lust” with a sensual young American woman, Nola (Scarlett Johanssen), an aspiring actress, and fiancee of his friend Tom, (Matthew Goode). This passion threatens to derail his perfectly arranged lifestyle. He knows the risk but the power of physical obsession is irresistible, and he pursues Nola. This choice leads him down very dark roads.
The performances are all first-rate, in particular Jonathyn Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johanssen, who are utterly convincing in their characterisations. Woody Allen’s script is eloquent, witty, ironic This pair would actually be very well suited to one another, if they had met under different circumstances, another time and place, but by now Chris’s ambition for more and more of the good life is too strong. He wants to have everything.
Woody Allen has used lingering close-ups on their faces, taking us as voyeurs, deep inside this ill-fated love affair. We experience the passion, the dishonesty, the confusion and pain and finally ruthlessness. We observe the subtle changes of expression in their eyes, the smallest flicker of facial expression. Allen expertly manipulates his audience, his long directorial experience on show at its very best. He is famous as being a wonderful director of actors – allowing them almost total freedom to carry out their craft.
Chris’s actions and a twist of fate have forced him into a situation where he must do something drastic… but what? How far will a person go to get what they want? After we know the answer to the question, we still don’t have the final result of this ‘game’ for a while. Woody Allen plays us along in suspense a little longer, before he concludes the film with the original burning question that was posed when we saw that tennis ball two hours earlier, suspended in slow motion above the net for a split second before falling, to decide the winner and the loser of the game.
The film leaves us with pondering life’s most impenetrable issues.