Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Match Point - Luck, Infidelity, and Dostoevsky

This is not your father's Woody Allen flick. The main reason for this is that it's not particularly funny. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comedy. It's far more Crimes and Misdemeanors than Annie Hall, and it's actually even less funny than the former. But it's easy to forget how well Allen can do drama. And this is just about the best thing he's ever done, as far as I'm concerned.

Allow me to preface this by saying that I have found a new reason to love Woody Allen. Allen is clearly a fan of one of my two favorite novels, Crime and Punishment. At one point in the film, I was about to scream with glee at the sheer tonnage of homage. *feels weird talking about glee and Dostoevsky at the same time*

This movie is not what it appears to be in the advertisements, and it's one of those movies where the more you watch it, the more it surprises you. It starts slow, and seems more like a travelogue for London than a story. Then it becomes a fairly standard romance plot about two people drawn to each other but kept apart by their respective relationships. Then it turns into an infidelity plot. But in the third act it turns into something else altogether.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (mmmm...) plays Chris, a former tennis pro who takes a job teaching. He soon befriends one of his puplis, Tom, and is invited to meet Tom's family for an evening at the opera. Chris spends more and more time with Tom's family and eventually becomes involved with his sister Chloe. And of course things get complicated when he meets Tom's lovely fiancee Nola. When Chris and Nola meet, you can see why they might be good together, were they not involved with other people. It's not just lust, though that's a major part of it. They have similar backgrounds and seem to understand each other. But they have one fundamental difference, and that is what takes their characters in different directions for the rest of the movie.

There are several different themes in the movie, but the one it's most interested in conveying is the concept of luck. The fairly well-known quote that it's "better to be lucky than good" opens the film, and that idea permeates much of the story. It's a lot like Crimes and Misdemeanors in that while money affects the destinies, the risings and fallings of the characters in C&D, luck determines the destinies of all of Match Point's characters. The ones that have it, rise; the ones that don't, fall.

There's an element of "be careful what you wish for" in the film as well. Chris goes to a lot of trouble to get what he wants, and when he gets it, whether it's a cushy, well-paying job or the affections of Nola, it's never what he thought it would be.

And then there's the Dostoevskian third act. Just ... wow. Can't say too much about it without spoiling it. Perhaps I've already said too much. :)

Did I mention that this is set in London? Another thing that makes it a different Woody Allen movie. And he shoots it with the same kind of love that he shoots Manhattan. The same amount of busy, the same kind of quirks, the same kind of urban beauty.

Match Point is definitely among the greatest films of 2005. It goes in directions you don't expect it to, and has lots of juicy characters with lots of flaws and neuroses. So ... maybe it's not that unusual for a Woody Allen movie after all.

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