[box cover]

Match Point

It's been 13 years, and as many movies, since Woody Allen has written and directed a feature film that was unequivocally good. His searing 1992 marital drama Husbands and Wives emerged from his personal mess of self-inflicted tabloid woes as a "Hail Mary" shot to complete the astounding winning streak that had made him one of America's most consistently satisfying directors for the previous 17 years. Since then, however, Allen has wavered between amusing comedies pocked with embarrassing juvenilia (1995's Mighty Aphrodite, 1997's Deconstructing Harry), half-assed re-cobbles of old ideas (1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery, 2003's Anything Else), relentless belaboring of lame gags (2003's Hollywood Ending), shockingly terrible, self-indulgent disasters (1998's Celebrity, 1996's The Movie We Dare Not Speak Of). The few bright spots during this long decade of shame (1999's Sweet and Lowdown, 2001's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion) were notable mostly for simply not sucking, and doing so with a forgettable lack of quality that fails to inspire nightmares. For an auteur so prone to streaks, perhaps his fine 2005 drama Match Point will signal a return to form for the 70-year-old filmmaker's swan song years. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as Chris, an ex-tennis pro from a tough Irish background, embarking on a life outside of the sport in which luck never favored him enough to achieve notable success. A brief stint as a tennis instructor for an exclusive London club earns the serious Chris the friendship of a wealthy, free-spirited socialite Tom Hewett, (Matthew Goode). Enthralled by the gloomy draw of fatalism, Chris easily but unenthusiastically returns the eager affections of Tom's sweet, optimistic sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and accepts a lucrative job at one of her wealthy father's many companies. Despite his strong attraction to and brief fling with Tom's sensual, unhappy fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), Chris and Chloe marry. But when Tom announce that he and Nola have broken up, Chris rekindles their affair and struggles to balance this secret passion with his comfortable life in the Hewett family inner circle. While most of Woody Allen's movies since the early 1990s have suffered from Allen — or an appointed surrogate (John Cusak, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Biggs; only Will Ferrell is up to the challenge) — overperforming a limp parody of Allen's famous neurotic persona, Match Point benefits greatly from eliminating Allen's waning sense of humor in favor of straight drama. As a result, it doesn't seem much like a typical Woody Allen movie at all, but rather plays like a less-stagy production of one his moody chamber dramas of the late 1980s. The single Allen movie it does directly recall (and a little too closely) is the dramatic half of 1989's dark classic Crimes and Misdemeanors (both are heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky and Scandinavian philosophy), and while this familiarity keeps Match Point from standing fully on its own merits, it is nonetheless a compelling, intelligent, brilliantly acted and tightly directed thriller exploring the imbalances between fate, luck, and morality. Would make a fine, if troubling, triple bill with both Crimes and Misdemeanors and Mortimer's 2003 Young Adam. DreamWorks DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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