REVIEW: “Match Point” (**1/2)

Posted by · 9:19 pm · November 29th, 2005

Match PointThe problem with Woody Allen’s most recent effort, the multi-lauded Cannes favorite “Match Point” is that we’ve seen it all before. The writer/director has approached the exact same territory before albeit on this side of the pond.

But deeper than that, it seems the extremely positive critical reception has more to do with a longing for the “return to form” we’ve come to expect – or should I say pine for – with each and every new endeavor from the conceiver of such creative works of genius as “Annie Hall” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

What “Match Point” lacks inherently, however, is just that – creativity.

One comes to appreciate the cutely conceived, tight little package of a story (fit with hooks and paradigms the level of Syd Field), but what the master filmmakers do in instances such as these is elevate the material that extra inch with a depth of character, a richness of interaction. Who better to offer such aspects than Woody Allen?

Instead, however, while the audience is set off on the interesting ride that unfolds beat after beat, a disinterest in the people actually living the events in the story keeps one at an uncomfortable observer’s distance.

Repetition, an exposed screenplay that boasts some of the laziest dialogue of Allen’s career (most especially in the later bits), and an overall sense that the better-than-decent performances are carrying the story on their shoulders (never the case with this filmmaker) anchor “Match Point” in a realm that may leap out of the fray of “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” or “Anything Else,” but by no means place it near the league of Allen’s greatest work – a tall order, but one fulfilled, oddly, in the eyes of many.

It seems that with Allen’s consistency of output (averaging a film per year for FAR too long), the dialogue and instances of his typical concoction were destined for unique breeding ground. The trek overseas may have been in order.

(from left) Scarlett Johansson and John-Rhys Meyers in Match PointJohn Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer and Scarlett Johansson spew forth the words – typical Allen fodder if you pay close attention – like no other portrayal we’ve seen. They don’t march to the rhythmic beat of the auteur at the wheel, and therefore what is in fact recycled comes off somewhat fresh. But that doesn’t protect it from the pitfalls of genre that make the terrain treacherous.

In fact, curiously enough, the most melodramatic moments from the most melodramatic character still provide the best performance of the film, and perhaps one of the best performances of the year. Scarlett Johansson’s Nola Rice really lifts off the page and out of the screen through a layered and just-so portrayal from the sexiest actress of her generation. If any awards recognition is coming Match Point’s way, hers would be most deserving.

Ultimately, however, I can’t call this exemplary cinema. Allen directs a few key moments, the film’s climax in particular (powerfully acted by Meyers, and however out-of-the-blue), with an assured ease that approaches a visual storytelling genius he has rarely exhibited. But they are few and far between, and the connections are non-existence for a fulfilling flow, let alone a standout achievement.

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