Many observers in the movie industry were taken aback on learning that the new film by the quintessential New York filmmaker, Woody Allen, was made in England with a nearly all-British cast and crew. It is perhaps even odder that the film is a serious drama with hardly any jokes. Yet, such is the case with “Match Point” (DreamWorks Pictures), a film that has earned Allen his best reviews in years.
The film stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (“Bend It Like Beckham”) as Chris, a former tennis pro turned instructor at a swanky London country club. He becomes friends with Tom (Matthew Goode, “Chasing Liberty”), a rich club member, and his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, “Lovely & Amazing”), whom Chris eventually marries. However, he is thunderstruck by Tom’s American fianc?e Nola (Scarlett Johansson). From this humble beginning Allen fashions a deep, existential story that ranks alongside “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo” as the best dramas he has ever made.
In an interview with The Hatchet, Rhys-Meyers commented on the contradictions between the cinematic image of Allen as the neurotic Jewish intellectual and his actual personality.
“Woody’s just a simple, undemanding character,” he said. “He’s a humanist at heart, whether he’d admit it or not.”
The themes of “Match Point” are hardly grounded in humanism; the film is cynical and unexpectedly brutal at times. When asked if he were surprised by these aspects of the script, Rhys-Meyers said, “I thought it was very true to life . Woody doesn’t understand the dramatic impact that he has on people, and the dramatic films that he has made were excellent.”
Mortimer also commended Allen’s dramatic gifts in an interview with The Hatchet.
“Woody is someone that always has a twinkle in his eye,” she said. “He is certainly aware of the humor in life, but also the
tragic absurdity of life when someone’s life goes horribly wrong.”
She also agreed with Rhys-Meyers’s assessment of Allen’s personality, and its discrepancy from his on-screen persona. “He was very relaxed and calm, although he was fastidious about makeup and costumes,” she said. “He created a very democratic atmosphere where everyone was on a level playing field.”
“Match Point” received rave reviews when it played (out of competition) at the Cannes Film Festival in May; but Mortimer said the plaudits did not exactly thrill Allen. In an interview with Roger Ebert, she said, “When the audience was cheering him after the screening, he was waving and happy and then he whispered, ‘Remember, tomorrow we go back to real life.'”
Whether Woody Allen is a cynic or a humanist at heart, “Match Point” proves that he is one of the most underrated American film directors in the history of cinema.
“Match Point” opens in Los Angeles and New York Dec. 28 and nationwide Jan. 20.