Thursday, January 26, 2006

Match Point (2005)

I think the luck stuff in this, the first good film from Woody Allen since 1999's Sweet and Lowdown, is mostly a red herring. The film seems to take as its credo "I'd rather be lucky than good" -- but then, seems is the correct word, because there's no luck involved in the outcome here. It's class, not luck, that leads us to the ending we get. Woody often deals in class issues, but rarely so baldly as he does here (the only one that comes close is Small Time Crooks, and who really gives a fig about that film?). As the film opens, Jonathan Rhys-Myers and Scarlett Johansson are outsiders in the British upper-class (Johansson doubly so, being an American). Rhys-Myers tries to insinuate himself into the upper class while hanging on to vestiges of his lower-class life (thus, the affair with Johansson), but the schism is ultimately irreconcilable. He's forced to choose on which side of the net he wants his ball to fall, and seeing as how wealth is portrayed here as a spiritual and social black hole, it's not too difficult to see where he'll choose to align himself. But that's the thing -- even as you know where the film is going, it still manages to surprise. I credit a lot of this to the evolution of Rhys-Myers's character -- if you're watching carefully, it's a corruption in stages. The performance, too, evolves with the film. Awkward at first, Rhys-Meyers becomes more natural and more accomplished the more accustomed to wealth his character becomes. There's a certain dry wit borne of frustration and impotence to the film's early stages, but that, like Rhys-Myers's moral compass, falls away. It builds and builds to a great final scene, where a celebration feels funereal given what we know. Some see guilt at the end; I see coldness, which is, in my eyes, even darker. Easily Woody's best in a long, long while.

[Full disclosure: I have not seen Crimes and Misdemeanors.]

Grade: B+


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