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"Match Point"

Directed by Woody Allen.
Written by Woody Allen.
Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode and Emily Mortimer.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  1/7/06


Let me say this as clearly as I can--for the first time, I think ever, I liked every single thing about a Woody Allen movie.  EVERY SINGLE THING.

His new comedy/drama/thriller "Match Point" works in the ways all three of those genres should work:  there are laughs, sometimes big laughs, in watching the sparks fly between local tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), his client's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and that same client's fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson).  The dramatic elements of what makes that romance tricky--especially as time wears on, Chris & Chloe get married, and Chris' obsession with Nola carries on, slowly damaging his married present & future--are well done in the second hour of the film.  And, in the last 20 minutes of the film, "Match Point" almost does a complete about-face as it takes on a new angle:  how will Chris ultimately deal with this Nola business if he is to keep both women happy?

I saw this for free on Thursday night--the day before it opened wide here in Washington--and the combination of a great film plus it being a freebie for me vaulted this thing into the stratosphere.  The choice to film this movie in London and what I will assume are English countrysides is beautiful; the production looks lavish, and looks as good even in its minutiae of small streets, minor details and passers-by.  Much like Allen's New York-based productions, the cinematography is great in mixing shots of things we know about London with things we might not.  The story moves along briskly--passage of time is unmarked but vaguely short in step, in contrast to the only problem I had with "Brokeback Mountain", which seemed to fly in leaps & bounds over 20 years--and the characters are sincerely watchable.  Even though Allen wrote the script it does seem that some of the English speech mannerisms are improvised by his cast, which again works well.

For me, it came down to caring about the leads involved in the story, and that's where Allen does his best work, in directing the Rhys-Meyers and Johansson parts; on paper, I think a hotshot tennis pro with a flair for the fake--Chris is gloriously scripted, right down to each moment when he pretends to care intimately about every last detail and every proper courtesy--and an American actress with confidence issues would be absolutely boring to watch.  Not so; Rhys-Meyers' work here is so good that I actually found myself rooting for him by the end of this thing, after you initially hate the guy's guts.  Johansson, playing her real-life opposite as a very unsuccessful actress, is strong once again and crafts another great performance out of material that could have wilted with a lesser actress in that role.

As good as all of this is, you want to know my favorite part about "Match Point"???  Woody Allen is NOWHERE to be seen.  He's usually the thing I hate most about his movies, and in not appearing in a single frame of this film, I didn't have to deal with the silly, tired neuroses that mark any of his past performances.  Here's to hoping that Allen gives us more truly great films like this without feeling the need to appear in his own films.  Stick to what you do best, Woody--direction!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09