**This is contribution to The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made Blogathon. Head over to Tales of the Easily Distracted by clicking the link to see the rest of the contributions!**
I remember going to see Match Point junior year of high school (I was diverse in my film tastes…one of the few at my school) and writing a raving review of it for the school newspaper…that only the teachers seemed to read. It was my first taste of Woody Allen and in watching with the expansive classic film background I have now, it seems Allen “borrowed” extensively from the acclaimed Master of Suspense. Match Point is a modern-day film noir with shades of Hitchcock films including Strangers on a Train with Suspicion, and those are just two films off the top of my head. Hitchcock could have easily made this had he been able to push the Production Code to its limits. On its own Match Point is a dark, sexual thriller, with my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance (of her career in my opinion). **Considering the nature of this film I think it best to mention there are spoilers in this article**
Tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) lives his life with a belief in luck. Through a series of lucky encounters he becomes enmeshed in the life of the wealthy Hewett family and catches the eye of the shy daughter Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris believes he’s set for life until he meets Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a struggling actress who happens to be dating Chloe’s brother Tom (Matthew Goode). When Nola and Chris engage in a torrid affair, that Nola wants to turn into a commitment, Chris must make some harsh decisions on how to handle her.
Match Point has several tropes of a Hitchcockian story ingrained throughout. Obviously, the “cool blonde” of Hitchcock’s films applies here in the character of Nola Rice. Critics cite this as the film where Johansson was labeled as a “sex symbol” and I’d have to agree in the looks category. Johansson has a halo effect around her in certain scenes and looks airbrushed to create an angelic look, especially in the opening moments of meeting Chris. I will say Johansson is stunning and acts superbly as Nola. She’s not the idiot you’d expect but is highly aware of her sexual nature and what it causes men to do. There’s a terrific scene between her and Chris in a bar. It’s the opening moment of their burgeoning relationship and the sexual chemistry is ramped up to 100. In the moment Nola outlines what men see her as, “something very special.” She’s constantly vaulted on a pedestal because of her looks and her sexy quality (there’s a sharp line about Nola being sexy, but not beautiful). The scene tells you what you need to know about her character right off and how she envisions the rest of the film playing out. The scene belong also has some amazing noir dialogue on par with Double Indemnity.
Allen gives the theme of the film in the opening lines, detailing the idea of luck playing a crucial role in the events of the film and to me, that’s almost the MacGuffin of the film. The various encounters that happen from Chris meeting Nola to narrowly avoiding detection by the cops after he completes the act of killing Nola can either be seen as luck/coincidence/or just smart manipulation on Chris’ part. Chris is a master manipulator, and while we’re not discussing William Wyler there’s shades of Montgomery Clift in The Heiress at play here, so it’d be easy for him to rig events in his favor. In the end its left up to the audience on how big a role luck played throughout the film. I will say that Rhys Meyers is the weak link of the cast. I’ve never found him particularly engaging and he almost takes on a Snidely Whiplash-esque demeanor towards the climax of the film. I understand his rationalizations make sense to him but I was still taken aback at how characters didn’t call him out.
I mentioned connections to Suspicion and that’s a smaller element of Match Point exemplified in the relationship between Chris and Chloe. Emily Mortimer is a darling in this film as the shy little sister (although her refrains of having a baby start to make ME want to get out of the marriage) and the way Chris manipulates her as a means of marrying her for her wealth has shades of Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in it. You also have the distrustful/insular nature of the Hewett family. In certain regards Mrs. Hewett (Penelope Wilton) controls her children down to who they date, shades of Psycho maybe?
Moving away from Hitchcock the film is suspenseful leaving you to guess what happens next. As the relationship between Chris and Nola turns sexual, and he starts to feel constrained by it, you’re left to wonder how far he’s willing to go to (only now he’s trying to get out instead of getting what he wants). The way Allen ramps up the tension mixing sex and violence expertly and the script is filled with dialogue exchanges that would make Quentin Tarantino gasp.
Match Point is one of the best films in the Woody Allen slate of films that’s been released in the latter years. It boasts exemplary performances by Scarlett Johansson and while I didn’t find Jonathan Rhys Meyers worthy of being the lead, he works well with the material. Said material is what makes this soar with an amazing script and story. I mentioned above that Hitchcock could have filmed this and that’s true. The story never goes where expected, and by the end it goes to dark places, and boasts numerous tropes you’d see in one of his films.