Friday, January 20, 2006

Match Point

Here’s a reactionary approach to Woody Allen’s Match Point. Did Woody Allen’s mother leave him when he was a child? Was Mia Farrow a terrible nag? Did he get rejected by women an awful lot as a boy? In short, what is his drama?

Match Point features three primary female roles: the controlling, manipulative mother; the sweet but boring wife; and the emotionally and intellectually empty sexpot who becomes a terrific nag. Ouch.

Then again, as my very wise boss and admirer of this film pointed out, the male characters aren’t exactly models of virtue either: the Machiavellian upstart; the lazy, self-indulgent male heir; and the detached father who expresses love through money. Allen’s film offers us few examples of redemptive humanity.

From a more psychological point of view, consider this film as male wish fulfillment. (spoiler alert!!) Our “hero” Chris Wilton marries into a wealthy family that thinks he can do no wrong, cheats on his wife with a voluptuous blonde, kills the blonde after knocking her up, and then gets away with all of it. Offering hot sex, suspense, and even some dark humor, Allen’s film explodes onto the screen, perhaps reinvigorated by the change of scenery from New York to London and the lack of the "Woody-stand-in" character.

Rhys Meyers and Johansson are ideally matched as lovers. Their voices evince a similar quality: smoky and understated with few variances of tone or intent. Somewhat dull and emotionless, their voices reveal the emptiness of the characters. Allen almost single handedly creates the sexual energy between the two actors. During an intimate conversation at a bar, Allen employs a series of close-up shots, allowing the camera to make love with the actors more than they do with each other. Whereas a medium shot would place both actors in view, Allen instead uses the camera angle to develop an intimacy that the actors, perhaps, lacked.

In one of the most compelling scenes in the film, Chris’s wife, Chloe (played by Emily Mortimer), asks him if he is having an affair. The silence that follows, as Chris must make a decision about his future, emits a palpable tension through the theatre. Forced to choose between lust and luxury, Chris makes a sensible choice but hatches a dangerous plan. Despite the fact that the audience doesn’t necessarily empathize with these characters, Allen infuses their conflicts with suspense by carefully increasing the stakes as he builds his story.

In a sort of wink at the audience, Allen presents his hero in an early scene reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Subsequent scenes echo this masterpiece, as Chris finds himself in a situation similar to Raskolnikov’s famous murder scene, a desperate and bumbled attempt at greatness. Yet Dostoevsky’s true power derives from his meticulous portrait of a man processing his guilt and discovering that he is not as powerful as he thought.

Allen, on the other hand, affirms his hero’s primacy. Though a mere coincidence allows Chris to walk away from his crime, Allen pointedly eschews the route of the Russian author. Chris suffers one moment of weakness following the crime, but quickly recovers his cool. A later scene features a nightmare during which the dead haunt their murderer, but Allen upsets expectations with a reveal that this is not Chris’ nightmare at all. Chris presumably sleeps quietly in his bed.

Here’s the most disturbing aspect of the film: I found myself rooting for Chris. Despite a rather wooden performance by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, his character’s chutzpah is endearing, somehow. Or perhaps his blatant assaholicness (yes, that’s a word I just made up) makes him more sympathetic in contrast to the snobby English landowners around him. In this vein, David Denby of The New Yorker wrote that the audience identifies with Chris because he is the scrappy poor Irish boy who dares to infiltrate the upper crust. Furthermore, Chris evidences some sign of self-awareness, while those around him wander oblivious through life. He compels interest because his lingering humanity does fight, however weakly, against his lust for power.

Allen’s preoccupation in this film lies with Chris’ climb to the top rather than the costs of his efforts. To this end, he has crafted a carefully plotted and intricate portrait of one man’s daring. As the audience vicariously experiences Chris’ desire, for sex and power, as well as his fear and hubris, we may feel a bit dirty, but we won’t be able to turn away from the screen.


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At 8:04 PM, Blogger Jimski said...

I don't know that I would describe getting away with cheating on my wife and killing my mistress "male wish fulfillment." I have never wished for that. The rest, though, I liked.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm awaiting your review on Brokeback Mountain. (I think it's riding on hype and nothing more).


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