Match Point (2005)

Ahhh, to be a part of posh, British, exclusive high society. To be leading edge, and and the same time – countryside; to be screwing around one weekend, and going through the paces of an arranged marriage the next. To be at the opera one night, and lurking in the motels the next day. Ahhh, to be an outsider to such lifestyle, and slowly, patiently crawl your way into a random high-society family, climb the hierarchy, claim your stake and admire your accomplishments from a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a famous London bridge. Must be nice, this lifestyle. And must be amusing to eavesdrop on the people occupying such universe. And that’s exactly what this movie does. It gives a glimpse into London’s high society, very similar to Altman’s Gosford Park – without judging, without comparing, without there even existing any other classes, or any other people. It’s just the family, and their social circle. A marvelous, amusing and frightening view and you can’t look away.

Rich people are fascinating, aren’t they. They make money (or are born into it), and then can attend to their children (the phrase “safety net” is mentioned probably 5 times in the film), or give to museums or theaters. Standard Philantropy 101 – give to the cause you identify with. Of course the only problem with that is if you’re slightly less successful, or have no interests, or have no kids. Then you’re either overworking so you can finally provide your kids with the level of comfort as the guy in the next-door castle. Or, if you’re childless, you put off the family until … until it’s convenient. But when is convenient if every few months there’s a new “ground floor opportunity that stands to earn us all quite a lot of money”, or a new promotion, or a new acquisition. At what point does your dinner date become a business date? At what point do you realize you’re only attending because you can make a deal later on, and not because you’re looking forward to spending some time with your partner, wife, father-in-law, or mother?

Fascinating questions – of course, they are never mentioned here. The movie is a glimpse into the lives of a certain group of people who behave in a certain way. The fact these thoughts have resurfaced days later, and are staying with me is just another compliment to great writing. The film itself is not about this at all – there’s no time to ponder anything, when you’re late to an opera. The movie is about luck. It’s about the odds, and people who can use them to gain advantage or get destroyed by them. The movie is about sudden changes of fortune, and about the routine formula of our actions. It starts with a main character flipping through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and later in the movie, he spills a glass of red wine. Nothing more needs to be said about the plot.

I went to see Match Point because I missed Woody Allen’s quick wit, and sharp dialogue. I suffered through Anything Else a couple of years ago, and was looking forward to snippy quick one-liners, observations about families, about lovers, and about classes. I got all of it, and yet the movie is very different from typical Allen formula. It’s much darker, it’s slow-paced, and it’s set in London. Hence the immediate similarity to Gosford Park, and in a way – Talented Mr. Ripley. A former tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) gets an exclusive job at a country club, gets to know a few regulars, comes into their house (the Hewetts), befriends everyone in an appropriate way, starts dating the daughter (Penelope Wilton) of the head of the family Alec Hewett (Brian Cox), gets noticed, gets hired “into the business”, excels, gets promoted, and literally married into the family. Luck and opportunities make all that possible. He was a a tennis pro, and became a powerful executive with a safety net, regular visits to the opera, and a family with extensive, always interesting social circle. All is perfect, except that early on Chris falls for a girl Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) who’s dating the son of the family. She’s untouchable at first – forbidden fruit, but when they break up, and the girl goes back to her “acting career”, that changes things. And this is where the most entertaining juggling and pondering begins. Does Chris court Nola and walks away from this immense opportunity, or does he treat her as a booty call while staying faithful to main obligations – to be a good, providing husband, and to never miss a night at the opera. Decisions, decisions.

The cast is great – Brian Cox walks away with every line he utters; he’s comfortable, and is only concerned with the comfort of his children. The mother hen is a typical “mum” who says what’s on everyone’s mind, but drinks too much – which gives everyone a reason to dismiss her truisms. The kids are proper, dull, predictable entities who have been pulled by their ears from birth, and have no unique views, no characters, no drive. All they have is status and permanent fancy restaurant reservations. And then there’s Chris – ambitious, sharp and very kind when the situation demands it. His goals are set from the first scenes, whereas everyone else’s – whatever daddy thinks they should do. Nola is also sharp, but she’s emotionally involved, plus she’s a girl. Girls don’t have much say in such families. Words are everyone’s weapons, and so the dialogue is very polished, hardly any word wasted. The locations and visuals are typical Allen – he loves bridges, rivers, shores, driveways. He follows the action, even though in his films, most of the action is verbal, or even silent. Chris and Nola (Meyers, Johansson) face off very well, showing great depth, putting absolutely everything into the background. And the undertones – the ones you take home with you and realize much much later – are priceless. Just like the many scenes where what’s not said is more important than what we hear. It’s sheer joy to listen to these interactions.

This is not a typical Woody Allen film, but it’s full of dark humour, class observations, and a lot of amazing dialogue. It’s not necessarily about the characters we like or approve of, but it’s certainly entertaining.

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