Saturday, February 11, 2006

Woody: Alive and Kicking

I finally saw Match Point this week. Leading up to the movie, all I had been hearing from people was that this was the least Woody Allen-ish movie in years. And this was meant as a compliment. It’s a sign of how far he has fallen—that even his dyed in the wool fans were desperate for him to try something new.

While the movie fits thematically with Woody’s other films (the idea that there is no governing principle or moral order to life is straight out of Crimes and Misdemeanors), as a filmmaker he has finally busted out of the tired mannerisms that had been plaguing his work for at least ten years. There is a merciful absence of nebbishness, no doubt due to the British cast, none of whom try to ape the Wood-man. Gone are the long takes for their own sake. The shots and editing have a rhythm that fits the story. The characters are well drawn and the performances are top-notch. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers makes Chris a compelling figure, even as we grow to revile him. His clumsy commission of his crimes shows a humanity that still exists beneath his cold-bloodedness, making the murders that much more disturbing. Matthew Goode brings a caddish, self-involved charm to the young socialite that Chris longs to be. Scarlett Johansson’s character, Nola, is his most finely drawn female character in years. Where the women in Woody’s recent movies seemed to be there simply as projections of the male characters’ fantasies and nightmares, she is a three-dimensional, flesh in blood figure—sexy, neurotic, passionate, unhinged. The layered, detailed writing, coupled Johansson’s sensual, raw performance (the scene where she berates Chris outside his apartment has real power) makes you forget the staleness of Woody’s recent female creations.

That is not to say the film ranks among Woody’s greater achievements (it is not in the same league as Crimes). It drags in spots—there are too may scenes of Nola and Chris arguing about her pregnancy and of her calling him on his cell phone. As the story moves toward its resolution, there was never really any doubt as to what would happen (granted, Maureen Dowd offhandedly revealed the murder in a parentheses in that day’s column. I supposed I shouldn’t be pissed; the movie had been out a while. But still!)

The scene where Chris kills Nola, while it works, could have been more powerful, more disturbing. What is missing from the scene is Nola’s reaction. When Chris calls to her, I longed to see a close-up of her, as her expression turns from joy to horror as she sees him pointing a shotgun at her. Then he should have cut back to Chris as he fires. Nola is such a vibrant character that not showing her reaction is a glaring omission. To that point, Woody had gone through such pains to make her character one who exists on her own terms, but this little moment undermined all that. And it would have made it more palpable exactly what Chris is doing—killing a woman he loves to preserve his lifestyle.

Of course, this is all nitpicky. And when is the last time that Woody Allen made a film that was even worth nitpicking?


At 12:12 PM, Blogger Tom Savage said...

Hello, I'm a poet friend of your father who learned about this review of Match Point from an email message from him. I've also reviewed Match Point. The title of the review is: What Is Luck? It either is up at under my name, Tom Savage, or should be soon. Thanks for your review. I found it interesting, as I hope you will find mine, if you read it.

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