Thursday, January 19, 2006

Movie / Match Point

Match Point
Written and directed by Woody Allen

This latest Allen film, released earlier in the UK by BBC Films and now in the US by DreamWorks, must be the one I read about a while back, in which a critic said Allen's views of the British upper class were closer to Evelyn Waugh than to modern reality. Some of the characters do resemble those in Brideshead Revisited, but it seems authentic enough, given that old money rich tend to maintain their traditional values more easily than the rest of us.

If anything this film, which gets 5 stars from the SF critics, may be the final maturation of Allen as a writer/director of serious drama. Two hours and seven minutes of intensely plotted story line and dialog regarding a poor young Irish tennis pro who marries into a wealthy family and then (more or less) ruins it all due to his lust for his friend's (ex) fiancée (Scarlett Johansson), who, although an obvious love object, gets in a lot of serious acting.

"Plot-driven rather than story-driven," as one critic commented, the movie narrates a long complex, intense story of these people's personal lives, which I can't say too much about without spoiling the ending. However in addition to the tragic operatic music Allen uses for much of the soundtrack, the ending becomes pretty apparent about 3/4 of the way through.

Although the theater was mostly full on opening weekend, this is clearly another Allen film with critical greatness and limited mass appeal. Comparisons to Ingmar Bergmann and Ibsen/Strindberg are not out of order. Many hours later I am still pondering it. The plotting and dialog writing are excellent, in the technical sense of scene beats, mounting tensions, overarching themes, emotional authenticity, etc. The directing is brisk and efficient, shot in various tony spots in London and some country estate. Allen wrote this, cast some young Brit actors, with Johansson as a box office draw, and everyone belted it out. No comedy (as such*), no ad-libbing, and no Allen-figure.

(* unless you count the Johannson character, an out-of-work American actress, blowing one audition after another, unable to get a part. :-)

I once read (on a screen writing website) that drama is the one genre that's not amenable to "high concept" because it's too much about the particular parties to the story. Match Point feels like a long, serious Broadway play. Highly recommended for those with such a taste, but otherwise you'll be dissatisfied. Or as one guy said to his date on the way out "you'd have liked 'Bullets Over Broadway.' "

The film earns its R rating, with many fairly intense sex scenes, some of the clothes-ripping variety. (As has been noted, R ratings are back, after a period in which everyone tried for PG, in hopes of selling more seats.) There is some violence, which remains off camera.

Originally published 1/7/06


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