Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Match Point

And while we’re on the subject of Ripley, as far as I’m concerned the closest anyone has come to capturing him on film. Staying very true to his elusive character. This Despite the considerable handicap that Match Point is not a Ripley Adaptation.

Match Point like Ripley is a tale of relentless social climbing and John Rhys Meyer is the perfect climber. And in his relentless violence, hunger, elegance, and above all his serenity, he makes the perfect monster.

Chris is a blank slate giving off only an air of faintly reptilian malice. Note his love of Opera and classic literature he always reads, and the frustration he exhibits with both. Is he trying to better his taste? I don’t believe so I think it is much more likely that he is trying to appear like he is bettering his tastes so that when the time comes “He can have the most interesting talk about Dostoevsky.

Match Point’s critical reputation has never been sturdy. It was hailed as a return to form at its Cannes release and then quickly discarded as “Just another Woody Allen film.” (Though I have a lot more tolerance for latter day Woody Allen then most) It was criticized as too long, too reminiscent of Crimes And Misdemeanors, and too Allen. I still think its the best thing he’s done in years.

There is a key difference between Crimes And Misdemeanors and Match Point. Landau’s ordering Huston’s death is so removed from him that it’s an abstraction, and crucially the death is used to keep the status quo. Huston threatens Landau’s status, his respectability, and the quiet comfortable life he has built up for himself. His actions are defensive, while Chris is definitely on the offensive, like Ripley he kills not out of passion, or revenge, or in defense, even defense of something as shallow as one’s image, he kills because it is terribly convenient for him to do so.

Match Point is also very much a post-Theistic film for Allen, God and religion are given merely a few derisive shots. Crimes and Misdeamors on the other hand is Bergmanesque (right down to the title) in it’s preoccupation with God and his silence. As Ebert puts it in his excellent analysis of the film “
In this darkest and most cynical Allen comedy -- yes, comedy -- he not only gets away with murder but even finds it possible, after a few months, to view the experience in a positive light. If as he says, the eyes of God are on him always, what does that say about God?
” again
“..Match Point, which premiered at Cannes 2005. The new film resembles Crimes and Misdemeanors in the way it involves a man who commits murder to cover up an affair, but Match Point is more firmly a film noir, and Crimes is frankly a complaint against God for turning a blind eye on evil.”
“Judah discusses his problem with his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach), who has connections with the Mafia. "They'll handle it," Jack tells him. Handle? "I can't believe I'm talking about a human being," Judah says. "She's not just an insect to be stepped on. ..."Yet he steps on her.” And finally “The implications of Crimes and Misdemeanors are bleak and hopeless. The evil are rewarded, the blameless are punished, and the rabbi goes blind.”

Yet Match Point if nothing else is even bleaker. While Judah is a man who is pushed into evil, and finds he’s more comfortable there then he thought he would be, Match Point is about a man who never quite leaves the pool. Even in the relatively benign beginning of the film he has the air of someone who is always “on” and as with Ripley we are never sure if what is behind the mask, if there is indeed anything there at all. Note Chris’s reaction when he shoots the old lady, one could read it as despairing and remorseful, but to me it reads more like someone who thinks that at this moment they “should” be despairing and remorseful and is going through the motions of it, even if there is no one to go through the motions of it to. His reaction is not unlike that of a man going through the after effects of a tremendous adrenaline rush and while Crimes and Misdemeanors toyed with the idea that God is watching everything and is keeping silent for his own reasons, Match Point in its marvelous denouement (the bit that really makes it a masterpiece in my book) jettisons the notion entirely. First with Chris’s conversations with the “ghosts” in his kitchen when he coolly brushes off their proclamation of doom, and secondly when it seems that divine intervention actually has occurred when one of the policemen investigating the case has an epiphany only to have it brushed under the rug by good old human luck.

This film is a marvel to view a Swiss watch of a movie where each piece on its own is a work of art. To quote Ebert yet again “One reason for the fascination of Woody Allen's Match Point is that each and every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest… Even sweet little Chloe basically has her Father buy Chris for her.”

Allen’s eye for casting has always been one of his most underrated attributes as a director, and Match Point is one of his best cast films. Not just Rhys, and Allen’s muse of the week Johanson, whose languid sensuality has never been put to better use and whose youth and vulnerability Allen uses to startling effect. But the bored upper class brood they attempt to prey on is equally excellently cast. From Brian Cox’s doddering yet powerful patriarch, Matthew Goode’s charming mixture of aristocratic disdain, entitlement and alcoholism, Emily Mortimer’s spoiled sweetness, and Penelope Wilson’s hell bitch, shocking after her turn in Shaun Of The Dead.

Allen steps up his game as well. Shooting things at a formalist, nearly Kubrickian reserve, though getting his fingernails surprisingly dirty when it comes to sex and violence, two things he’s always been oddly shy about showing onscreen (A sex scene set during a rainstorm is down right steamy). Its Allen’s most sensual film by far. Aided and complimented nicely by Remi Adefarasin beautiful but understated cinematography.

One key difference between Ripley and Match Point, is while Ripley argued that American’s had far surpassed our European cousins in our ruthlessness and corruption, Match Point argues that the Europeans still retain the crown in this particular field. Nola like so many visiting girls in Henry James novels cannot survive when the British start to move in on her, despite her reasonable prowess. Look as well, to the construction of the film, it is Allen’s longest and many critics groused that it was too long. I disagree there is not so much as an ounce of fat on this script it’s propulsive and economic. Look at the first meeting between Nola and Chris the entire movie is summed up in under a minute of screen time. Two predators meet and size each other up, only one has horribly underestimated the other, and soon suffers the consequences. It is nothing short of brilliant. Just like the film.


The Film Doctor said...

I always liked Match Point too, although I saw it as something of a revision of Crimes and Misdemeanors (you make a good distinction, however). Johanson's bland American accent doesn't stand a chance next to all of the smooth upper-class British voices in the movie. I've always liked Emily Mortimer's work, in part due to this film. It seemed to help Allen as an artist to get out of New York and try out the mise en scene of another city.

Simon said...

I'm rather divided on this movie--I can't stand Meyers, see, except for that Clive Owen movie where he was okay, but Scarlett and Emily Mortimer are just lovely in it--but nice review, anyway.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Film Dr.: I very much agree. I have to say if I noticed one difference with the film this time around. Its just how vulnerable Johansen seemed. So much younger and less sophisticated.

@Simon: Very much agree about Meyers. There's something unlikeable about him. But in this case it really works.

Aaron said...

I liked MATCH POINT a lot. I saw it at the theater when it came out and went into it completely blind in regards to what it was about, who was in it, and that Woody Allen directed it. My girlfriend at the time picked it for us to go see. That being said, I was really blown away by the movie and it still holds up to this day. I remember thinking, as I was watching it, "man this is really fucked up". It's also the first movie I saw with Scarlett Johansen that really made me take a step back and realize that she's pretty god damn sexy. Prior to this I had only seen her in GHOST WORLD, I think. Coincidentally, two of my favorite movies with her are this one and VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. As far as Meyers, I thought he was fine in this. Nice write up, Bryce!

Bryce Wilson said...

Many thanks Aaron. Man I envy you getting the chance to see this blind.

Vicky Christina Barcelona is pretty great, I wish that Allen had stuck with Johanson awhile longer, she really seemed to bring out something ambitious in him.

Except for when that thing was Scoop. Scoop was fucking dreadful.

Anonymous said...

This movie sucks bad. The character doesn't make any sense.
He had at least 3 best choices rather than kill the girl.
1- He could marry her and raise their child. Yes, because there's nothing in the his background to justify that he needs the money so bad. It's not like he has a dying mother who needs money for the treatment, or something. I mean, if he's a social climbing psychopath, what made him that way?
2- He could kill his wife instead, since he's the killing kind. He would keep her money, without the inconvenience of being married to her. That would make so much more sense.
3- He could say to Scarlett Johanssen's character: "I don't love you anymore, get the fuck out of my life. I'm gonna help you raise the kid if you don't fuck with my marriage, you bitch!"

And there's yet another problem in this movie: the actor can't hide the fact that he's gay.
That scene in which he meets his friend, his wife's brother, what the hell was that?!? They were flirting.