Magazine article The New Yorker

Game Playing; the Current Cinema

Magazine article The New Yorker

Game Playing; the Current Cinema

Article excerpt

You could say that Woody Allen, by shifting his milieu from New York's Upper East Side to London's elegant Belgravia, has not so much re-invented himself (as some have suggested) as gone back to the motherland of the Wasp good taste he's always aspired to. But there's no need to be rude. Whatever Allen's needs or motives, a change of light and scenery was obviously good for him. His new movie, "Match Point," devoted to lust, adultery, and murder, is the most vigorous thing he's done in years. The beginning, however, is lame: we're introduced to an Irish-born tennis pro, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a very good player--he played Andre Agassi a couple of times--who is now teaching at a posh London club, where he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the lanky, easygoing son of a wealthy family. Tom takes a shine to Chris, who comes from a poor background but has upwardly mobile tastes--he loves opera--and introduces him to his friends and relatives, including his sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). In the family box at Covent Garden, Chloe keeps shifting her gaze from "La Traviata" to the handsome young tennis player sitting behind her. Chris's visit to the Hewett country estate follows soon after.

The trouble with these scenes is that they feel falsely debonair. The twitty rhythms and studied languor of Tom's idiom ("I've got some serious cocktails to start making") and the good-hearted effusions of Chloe, who is described as "frighteningly bright" but comes off as vapid, sound more like the small talk in a drawing-room comedy from 1956 than like the London of today. And, at first, Allen's dramatic construction is more opportunistic than convincing: Chloe falls instantly and irreversibly in love with Chris, and her father (Brian Cox), some sort of corporate tycoon, takes Chris into his business without any hesitation. Can the English upper class really be this unguarded? At the firm, Chris rises like a moon shot, though we never find out what the business does or what he does, except dress beautifully, get driven around town in a company Jag, and talk on the phone. The movie is framed by a philosophical meditation on the importance of luck, but it's Allen's script, not luck, that sends Chris so rapidly into the stratosphere.

In these early glimpses of the Hewett circle, there's another guest--Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), a young American actress of no particular talent but overwhelming allure, who is Tom's fiancee. Nola and Chris impudently flirt when they first meet; later, they bump into each other on the street and go to a bar, and, at that moment, the movie takes off. The two great-looking outsiders are perfectly matched. The slender Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (from "Bend It Like Beckham") has widely spaced blue eyes, slightly flaring nostrils, and a flattened upper lip--he can look pensive or brutally calculating at will. Chris, as Rhys Meyers plays him, has perfect manners joined to rather frightening sang-froid. He's avid, as Tony Curtis used to say--avid for love, for money, for everything--and he doesn't care who notices it. Scarlett Johansson wears her blond hair up, which brings out the oval shape of her face and the soft beauty of her features, and she, too, has an unusual upper lip, curved and fleshy, and a low, smoky voice. Allen cuts back and forth between closeups of these two; the technique couldn't be more straightforward, but it's richly suggestive. Nola is lost and hanging on to Tom--she has the neurotic vulnerability that has always appealed to Allen, though she's more openly sexual than his past heroines. She views Chris with amusement as a successful interloper, and advises him not to blow it by making a pass. But he sees her as a prize that is just as available to him as to Tom. He marries the chattering heiress Chloe, but he pursues Nola, and the mutual fascination that was so powerful in the bar feeds into the most passionate and explicitly erotic love scenes that Allen has ever directed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.