Don’t knock Match Point

Woody Allen’s new film, Match Point, uncharacteristically shot and made in London, England, has for the most part been rapturously received at Cannes and in the United States — spoken of as a potential Oscar-winner as Best Film, even — but given a distinctly cool reception in some quarters in the UK.  Peter Bradshaw and, more surprisingly, Maureen Lipman in the Guardian complained that the upper-class English dialogue didn’t ring true, reflecting an American director’s tin ear for English English idiom.  The usually reliable Ms Lipman even complained that the film took place in a swinging London that hadn’t existed for decades.  Both criticisms seem to me unfounded.  Perhaps Mr Bradshaw and Ms Lipman (whom we once met on a cruise and who was delightful — friendly, unpompous and without side) don’t move in these rich-tycoon, landed gentry circles, any more than I do, but the script and dialogue sounded perfectly authentic to my equally English ear, and I saw nothing anachronistic about the London lovingly portrayed.  Both Bradshaw and Lipman complained also that the use of such backgrounds as Tate Modern and the Thames Embankment were too touristy, but they were wholly appropriate in their contexts and it’s good to see London affectionately and admiringly photographed by a master film-maker whose love of Manhattan he has celebrated in the past so productively and cinematically. 

The film is a departure from Allen’s more usual oeuvre, not only with its UK location but also in being neither comedy nor Bergmanesque family psychological drama.  This is a Hitchcockian thriller which beautifully builds up suspense and finally resolves it with a breath-taking and cunningly prepared Hitchcockian McGuffin worthy of the Master.  There are other cinematic echoes and references, notably (unless I was imagining it) to Antonioni’s splendid Blowup — Match Point has a tennis ball crossing and re-crossing the net without sound or tennis-players;  Blowup has a group of mimes playing tennis without a ball, also of course soundlessly.  (Later there’s a sequence in reverse:  we see a deserted tennis court but hear the sound of an invisible tennis ball being hit to and fro by invisible racquets wielded by invisible players.)  Woody Allen has yet another variation on this nice theme.

There are fleeting guest appearances by familiar faces (Margaret Tyzack, John Fortune) although I didn’t spot a Hitchcockian 3-second flash of Woody Allen.  Contrary to the Guardian’s nit-pickers, I thought all the principal and supporting performances first-rate, sometimes sounding partly improvised, always expert and professional in the English actors’ tradition (much praised by Allen in recent interviews).  Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer (who had the unnerving experience at one time in real life of discovering the existence of an older brother, Ross Bentley, as a result of a past
relationship between the actress Wendy Craig and her father, the playwright Sir John
Mortimer), the admirable Matthew Goode, and of course the glorious Scarlett Johansson [1], all turn in Oscarish performances of genuine star quality. 

Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in Match PointDespite its ingenious title (that McGuffin again), this isn’t a film about tennis or tennis players, except tangentially; any resemblance to the wholly dire film Wimbledon (see my blog post about that turkey) is purely coincidental.  The use of opera arias, sung by Caruso and others, as background music and echoing one of the movie’s themes, reminiscent of the best of Morse, is enormously effective and makes you wonder why more classy movies don’t make use of classical music to add to their impact.  (Of course there was always Mozart to decorate Bo Widerberg’s Elvira Madigan.)  However, I will grant the Guardian‘s snipers one damaging point:  British lovers of genuine opera aren’t likely also to be enthusiasts for attending  a musical of Mr Andrew Lloyd Webber.  That does jar.

There’s a perceptive and balanced article about Match Point in the New York Magazine of 26 December 05 (I read it only after writing the above comments).  For some reason it prompted the question in my mind whether the evident reluctance on the part of some Brits, and perhaps especially some women to a more marked degree than men, to give Match Point and Woody Allen the credit due to an outstanding film might have something to do with a gut dislike of its director because of his unattractively messy private life, anyway at a certain stage of it.  The fact that Scarlett Johansson is one of the film’s major assets (as Woody Allen himself acknowledges) might also have something to do with it.  I saw the movie with my wife and another couple.  Perhaps it was pure coincidence that the two women didn’t think much of it, while the two men thought it magnificent?  Not a statistically significant sample, obviously, but perhaps of some anecdotal value;  suggestive, anyway.  And it can’t be pure chance that the film already has four nominations for Golden Globes.  (It was not entered for the competition at Cannes.)  [n.b.: Comments accusing me of sexism, misogyny, etc. will be deleted.]

In spite of everything, go to Match Point.  It’s a splendid movie and great entertainment.  Welcome back, Woody.

[1] Sometimes wrongly spelled Johanssen. 


8 Responses

  1. " wonder why more classy movies don’t make use of classical music to add to their impact."

    Brian,Hang on a minute. Even in you look at just Mozart, his music has been  used in hunderds of movies. Have a look at this list.  Even if you strip out the films of his operas and those you reject as not classy- a pretty subjective criterion- you are still left with a pretty long list.  And the same exercise can be performed with J.S.Bach hereand  Gustav Mahler here 

  2. Molly says:

    Hello, I went to see Match Point last night and found your review very interesting.  I got the impression that the character of Chris wasn’t being at all sincere when he said he enjoyed ‘Woman In White’ so that bit didn’t worry me.  Also his wife didn’t go into detail about her response to opera, and I felt that she was just one of those people who loved anything life threw at her, with very few exceptions. 
    I agree that the backdrop of the Tate Modern (etc) was highly relevant, and I didn’t feel it was too touristy either.
    It took me a while to get used to Jonathan R-M’s accent after seeing him in Bend It Like Beckham, but I got there in the end.  As for how they spoke to each other, I couldn’t say how realistic it was!  I don’t move in those ‘country house’ circles but, as you say, it sounded realistic enough.

  3. Brian says:

    I agree that I underestimated the use of classical music as ‘film music’, as Tony’s links demonstrate (in particular, how could I have forgotten the devastating effect of the Mahler in Death in Venice?).  I would even include as a special kind of classical music the incredibly effective use of an old Billie Holiday recording of ‘Willow Weep for Me’ in Losey’s superb and underrated 1962 movie Eve (called Eva in the US), set in Venice and with the immortal Jeanne Moreau and the now unjustly forgotten Stanley Baker.  Anyway, those operatic arias do add an atmospheric dimension to Match Point.  I’m glad that Molly, visiting from her own very engaging website, enjoyed Match Point too, and agreed with my comments on the unjustness of some of the criticisms of it still being made by some British critics.  The particularly unwarranted sniping by Cosmo Landesman in today’s Sunday Times ‘Culture’ (!) review even casts aspersions on Scarlett Johansson’s performance:

    Johansson looks fantastic, but I simply did not
    believe her impersonation of a struggling American actress in London.
    There’s nothing the least actressy about her…

    …except of course that she happens to be an American actress, and has personal experience of being a struggling one, a point which seems to have escaped Mr Landesman. It occurs to me that some of the more pretentious supercilious UK critics resent, perhaps subconsciously, this upstart American coming over here and making a film in which our very own London has a starring part when only true-born Englishmen, and Londoners at that, can properly interpret our capital city to the world in film.  The nerve!  The fastidious sneer at the Americans is rarely far away from some people. 


  4. Brian says:

    A friend, Michael H., has authorised me to post the following interesting and perceptive comments, which seem to me to score some palpable hits against all the negative criticism.  They have been lightly edited to eliminate possible spoilers:

    Fascinated by your review of Woody Allen’s Match Point, which I read on our return from seeing the film the other night. Both Camilla and I greatly enjoyed it, and like you were at a loss to understand the grudging, nit-picking and curmudgeonly tone of nearly all the reviews (another in similar vein from Philip French in Sunday’s Observer [Brian adds: and an even more obtuse one in the current New Statesman]). To be fair, Camilla did agree to some extent with those who thought the upper-class dialogue didn’t always ring true. As her ancestry is markedly more elevated than mine, I have to allow that her ear may be better tuned to the detection of these infelicities! All I can say is that, like you, I did not pick them up. Surely the point about the family into which the social-climbing Irish tennis player marries is that it is living out an idea of an aristocratic, landed-gentry lifestyle for which their wealth has enabled them to buy the trappings — country mansion, polo ponies, grouse moor etc. It’s true that Emily Mortimer’s character, Chloe, does say "Papa" rather a lot – an endearment which , with its companion "mama", is surely not current anywhere naturally now, even in the most upper-crust circles. But might not a nouveau riche family conscious of its social position think this just the sort of slightly-out-of-date language they ought to be affecting?

    However, I may be crediting Woody Allen with too much subtlety here. If Allen’s ear does let him down, I think it is more apparent in his unconvincing attempt to reproduce the jargon of City types (in the office where Chris has been found a job by his father-in-law) and in the dialogue between the two detectives of whom French says unkindly but not entirely without justice that they "speak in a way that would get a tyro scriptwriter on The Bill fired." I’m less impressed by the smart-alec gibe that a family of true opera lovers would not be seen dead at a Lloyd Webber musical, which perhaps says more about the intellectual snobbishness of those making it than anything else. In any case, for the Hewett family opera-going, like grouse-shooting and polo, is clearly more than anything a social activity in which they need to be seen to be engaged, a necessary accessory of their lifestyle, like the places where they shop and the restaurants where they eat, and I do not find it all improbable that their tastes would run to The Woman in White as well as Rigoletto. And, in fact, unless my memory is at fault, it is only Chloe who goes to the Lloyd Webber. Her husband doesn’t want to, but changes his mind when he realises that it will fit neatly into his gradually maturing plan. It’s true that the camera lingers lovingly on a lot of touristy locales that show London in a glamorous and flattering light; but, as you say, the use of these locations is entirely justified by the context and the characters portrayed. Is there not something rather perverse and a bit sad about the British inability to like any film which shows London as an attractive place? Of course, it’s an illusion, or at least far from the whole truth, but no more so than much of Hollywood’s depiction of American cities and way of life, of which the same complaint is seldom heard. 

    All these, in the end, seem to me minor carps that do not detract from the film’s main strength as a brilliantly-paced thriller with many Hitchcockian touches. The use of tennis – or more exactly a match point decided by a net cord – as a metaphor for the operation of chance in human affairs is very clever and delivers at the end a most ingenious twist. Ms Johansson, apart from looking gorgeous, was quite excellent, we thought, in the spurned mistress role, the right mix of vulnerability and hardness. Emily Mortimer and Matthew Goode as the pampered Hewett siblings, Chloe and Tom, were also spot on – no wrong notes there. The Hitchcock film it reminded me of was Strangers on a Train – where tennis also features, though in a quite different way. The main character, if you remember, is a tennis star who wants to marry a senator’s daughter but has been refused a divorce by his estranged wife. By chance, on a train journey, he meets a spoilt, psychopathic playboy (called Bruno, I think) with whom he strikes a bargain: Bruno will murder his wife, and in return he will kill Bruno’s domineering father. This plan for the "perfect" crime eventually comes unstuck, of course, while in Match Point — but I mustn’t spoil it for those reading this who haven’t yet seen it. In Strangers Hitchcock uses the technical trick of showing a murder reflected in the victim’s fallen spectacles; I wonder whether Woody A. had this in mind when he decided to show two key events just off-screen, with the audience registering the events only through Chris’s expressions and actions, which achieves a similarly chilling effect. 

    Brian comments: Two of my three companions at Match Point  were also reminded of Strangers on a Train, although Woody Allen doesn’t of course echo or refer to the celebrated sequence in that memorable movie in which the spectators at the tennis match  are all seen turning their heads in unison alternately to left and right as the ball goes to and fro from one end of the court to the other — except for one head that remains absolutely still, that of Bruno who never takes his eyes off his intended victim.  The surely deliberate echo of Blowup, mentioned in my post, seems to me louder;  and the film’s plot and theme are strongly reminiscent of both Crimes and Misdemeanours (an earlier Woody Allen, 1989) and in particular A Place in the Sun, George Stevens’s superb 1951 film of the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy, with stunning performances by Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and the invariably excellent Shelley Winters.

    I entirely agree that the depiction in Match Point of the business-rich family apeing, not always convincingly, the manners and style of a family of the landed gentry of half a century ago is totally convincing — and no doubt owes its authenticity in part to the English actors portraying them, who would have corrected any jarring language in Woody Allen’s script.  The carping critics seem to me to have missed many of the most enjoyable features of an excellent film.

  5. Brian says:

    The following comments, sent to me by an American living and working in the classical music industry in New York, were written before she had read this blog post or the comments on it, and are posted here with her permission.  She knows that Woody Allen and I both disagree with her about the quality of the acting of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson:

    Before I read any blogs or reviews of Match Point (I’ve read very few reviews of it), I’ll let you know my opinion, having literally just got back from seeing it.

    First, I think Woody Allen is a genius. He just oozes class, and his use of opera in the movie was, I thought, absolutely inspired. (He’s featured a lot of opera in his recent films – but not as obviously as in this one.) Using those old Caruso recordings magnificently enhanced the pathos and romance and sometimes the comedy of Chris’s predicament. It also carried overtones of An American Tragedy, which has been one of the big opera stories of New York and the world, and he wasn’t afraid to remind us all of that. He obviously spent time looking for exactly the right aria and mood that he wanted for the film: or at least he paid someone to do that!

    The fact that there were Hitchcockian references (eg. didn’t that famous scene from Frenzy happen on the Thames, probably in a similar spot?), and even that he was laughing at the ghastly Andrew L-W through the voice of that awful, insipid character … It was all just so beautifully pointed and subtle and clever. And the plot had real, edge-of-your-seat Hitchcockian suspense to boot.

    What a shame that the acting was so poor. The two leads – ‘Chris’ and the Johansson character – were just wooden and unconvincing. The lead seemed to be an American affecting a very unconvincing British accent [Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is Irish, in fact, as I rather think his character Chris was also supposed to be — BLB]. The other actors I thought did a good job. But it was sad that the leads were so unwisely cast. I know that dear Woody has a thing for the bright, young sexy nimphets of the day, and I always feel that they’re always his Achilles heel, in practically every movie he makes. But I suppose they draw the crowds. The Jude Law look-alike just didn’t have any depth or gravitas; we didn’t like him in the way that we were all drawn to the poor guy in American Tragedy [the great Montgomery Clift in the film version, A Place in the Sun, of course — BLB], despite his terrible, despicable weaknesses. But I think we could have been, with a better actor.

    So, I think Woody’s back on track: now he just needs to think long and hard about his future casting.

  6. Brian says:

    Yet another fascinating comment on Match Point, this time in an e-mail from Guy Reynaud, ‘a French cinéphile’, as part of an exchange of messages including e-mails from ‘MH’ and BK’, referred to in Guy’s comment.  He is one of the (unpaid) managers and advisers of a local arts cinema, ‘Quatre Cents Coups’, also mentioned in his comment.   Among many other things, M. Reynaud discusses the question, raised in my original post, whether Match Point has its own Hitchcockian McGuffin.  If anyone can provide a definite answer to Guy’s closing enquiry about the locations on the banks of the Thames of the opening scene of Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ and whether it is the same as the ring scene in Match Point, please let us all know:  I think both locations are virtually identical, i.e. on the south bank near the Royal Festival Hall, next to Waterloo Bridge, but I wouldn’t claim to be sure.  Anyway, here’s Guy:

    Merci pour ta très stimulante communication avec documents annexes concernant Match Point et notamment l’évocation du principe du Mac Guffin, notion pas très facile à cerner et sur laquelle beaucoup de critiques ou historiens ont déliré.  Brian Barder a raison de se référer au livre de Truffaut (dont je m’enorgueillis de posséder une édition princeps!) où il aura trouvé les propos du maître et notamment l’anecdote originelle qu’il raconte (plutôt une shaggy dog story, non?): "…Deux hommes conversent dans un train.   L’un dit à l’autre: "Qu’est-ce que c’est que ce paquet que vous avez placé dans le filet?"  L’autre: "Ah, ça, c’est un Mac Guffin." Alors le premier: "Qu’est-ce que c’est, un Mac Guffin?"  L’autre: "Eh bien, c’est un appareil pour attraper les lions dans les montagnes Adirondak".  Le premier: "Mais il n’y a pas de lion dans les Adirondaks".  Alors l’autre conclut: "Dans ce cas, ce n’est pas un Mac Guffin." Le texte, anonyme, paru sur Internet, n’est pas très enrichissant.  Les explications sont peu claires et les exemples (Notorious, Vertigo, North by North West) semblent aller dans tous les sens. Je crois qu’il faut rester sur cette idée centrale qu’un Mac Guffin est un ressort dramatique qui va lancer l’action (the plot), mais dont le contenu importe peu, une ruse de narrateur, un prétexte pour démarrer une intrigue, un élément permutable, donc.

    Y-a-t-il Mac Guffin dans Match Point? Je ne crois pas. On n’est pas dans des images-prétextes, mais dans un énoncé fondamental, chargé de sens. Dans cette balle – et plus tard cette bague – dont on ne peut prévoir de quel côté elles vont tomber – je lis plutôt, comme M.H., une allégorie annonciatrice du thème du film: la chance, qu’on a pu définir comme un hasard qui réussit.

    Match Point est-il néanmoins hitchcockien? Oui à cinquante pour cent, c’est à dire à partir du moment où le suspense (comment va-t-il s’en débarrasser?) commence. Mais tout le début du film relève plutôt de l’analyse socio-psychologique d’un aventurier qui devient un parvenu, et qui m’a rappelé Tom Jones. On peut opposer la construction du scénario de Woody Allen à celui d’Hitchcock dans Shadow of a Doubt, par exemple,  où les virtualités assassines de l’oncle Charlie apparaissent très vite, où le contexte sociologique et psychologique est des plus sommaires (qui est Charlie sinon un assassin de vieilles dames, on n’en saura pas plus). 

    Match Point connaît beaucoup de succès ici. La critique a été enthousiaste, et le public a suivi. Aux Quatre Cents Coups nous nous sommes toujours fait un "devoir" de programmer les films de Woody Allen, mais pour la première fois les salles sont bien remplies. Je ne saurais dire si les spectatrices sont plus réticentes que les spectateurs, comme en Angleterre. On pourrait avancer une explication simple en évoquant la bonne vieille identification aux personnages: alors que dans presque toute l’oeuvre de W.A. les femmes sont positives et victorieuses, là c’est une homme qui se joue d’elles, les abandonnant ou les trucidant!

    Je souscris en partie au contenu du message de BK. Certainement Chris, qui a échappé à la justice, n’échappera pas aux remords, même "amid the champagne-quaffing group". Éveil tardif d’une conscience morale? On peut douter que le reste de son existence soit serein. En cela W.A. est bien, malgré toute son originalité,  dans la convention hollywoodienne depuis les origines (même chez ce polisson de Stroheim, voir "Greed") jusqu’à un passé récent (tous les Hitchcock), qui exige que le méchant – the villain – soit puni d’un manière ou d’une autre. Est-ce d’ailleurs le propre du seul cinéma américain? Les films européens, depuis longtemps,  ont souvent comme héros des amoraux (Renoir,"Boudu sauvé des eaux") ou des asociaux, mais jamais des assassins qui échappent à la loi d’un coeur léger (voir quand même du côté des surréalistes, Bunuel notamment, et de Chabrol, si amoral comparé à Truffaut.)   Il serait intéressant de vérifier si cette règle s’applique au roman; je n’ai pas la compétence pour en juger, mais j’en doute.

    Par contre, je ferai des objections à la critique de BK des "invraisemblances" [‘implausibilities’ — BLB] de "Match Point": les détonations, le fusil dans le sac, l’amour champêtre à deux pas de la maison de campagne, le détective bien vite résigné à abandonner son suspect… Là encore j’en appelle à Hitchcock qui déclarait à Truffaut ne jamais s’inquiéter de la vraisemblance, le rôle du réalisateur étant de mener en bateau le spectateur pris dans le rythme du suspense. Je revoyais tout récemment, et pour la douzième fois au moins, le superbe "Vertigo" où les absurdités de situations abondent: coïncidences incroyables, soumission extravagante du personnage de Judy que l’amour seul ne peut justifier…, mais nous en inquiétons-nous? Le Maître lui-même, parlant de "The Lady Vanishes", se moque gentiment des "vraisemblants" (drôle de néologisme en français! quid en anglais? ["Realism fanatics"? — BLB]) lorsqu’il déclare: "…mes amis les vraisemblants (c’est à dire B.K. et consorts) pourraient se demander pourquoi confier un message à une vieille dame que n’importe qui aurait abattue, alors qu’il eut suffi d’envoyer le message par pigeon voyageur"!

    Oui, je crois que les remarques de BK, parfaitement recevables sur le plan de la logique, n’endommagent pas le fonctionnement du suspense, ce qui est l’essentiel: le fil de l’histoire prime sur les péripéties. Le spectateur, à moins d’être le trop rationnel B.K., se laisse emporter par le courant narratif. Et on devine la jubilation du réalisateur-prestidigitateur.

    Bien d’accord aussi avec M.H. quant à l’image de Londres prétendument "touristique" (je ne dirai rien – et pour cause – des accents et modes de vie de la high society). Il est bien évident que Chris devient un homme de la Cité et du West End; c’est donc ce Londres qui logiquement est montré.

    Pour en revenir une dernière fois à Hitchcock, lui a-t-on jamais reproché de situer ses grandes scènes sous le Golden Gate bridge, dans les Monts Rushmore ou en haut de la statue de la Liberté? (Incidemment le quai de la Tamise où la bague est jetée est-il bien éloigné de celui où la police repêche un cadavre au début de Frenzy?)

  7. Bob says:


    I saw Match Point in my favourite cinema, ‘Les 400 Coups’, in Villefranche-sur-Saône, in late December (before its release in the UK). I quite liked it, but have always been uneasy about aspects of its sieve-like plot. I liked its comforting if marginal connection with my own sport, tennis, and its caricature of self-indulgent upper-middle class life. (But is that what Allen intended?)  I suppose I also felt a rosy glow on seeing familiar landmarks whilst sitting amongst foreigners – the Queens Club, Tate Modern, The Royal Opera House, the Royal Court, and so on.

    But much also jarred, even amongst the film’s basic environmental props. Couldn’t Allen find a real tennis pro to double for Rhys Meyers, whose strokes were more those of a student than a coach?  And as for Tom’s flattering banter that Chris ‘might have played Rusedski with a bit of luck’! Not with those shots, Woody!  (Poor Greg will surely get some ribbing after this…)  A lot of people watch and play tennis nowadays and know the difference. 

    Then the ponderously funereal rendering of ‘ Una furtiva lagrima’, which had Nemorino sounding far from joyous that ‘ that secret tear tells me she loves me really!’, simply didn’t sound like Caruso to me. Listening to my own vinyl copy I can only conclude that it was probably played too slow by the sound engineers – and that Allen might have a tin ear for opera. 
     But then, opera was just one of the elements in the socio-economic wallpaper of the Hewett family – along with Lloyd Webber musicals, shooting, posh restaurants and spending money in general. And I was surprised how many critics called them upper-class. Is this another Allen blind spot? The upper classes would rarely be seen at Covent Garden, hardly ever at ALW musicals and never at Tate Modern. And far from indulging in Eleanor Hewett’s bitching about Nola’s lack of acting talent (by which she meant class), the matriarch of a true upper- class family wouldn’t have made the slightest fuss about her being an actress, struggling or otherwise; what she would have seen immediately was succulent breeding- stock, pure and simple! No, the Hewetts were firmly upper- middle class. Father Alec had clearly made his enormous pile in the city himself, and, as MH says, the spoilt- brat children used the sort of ‘mama papa’ language they imagined they ought to use as faux members of top-drawer society. ( In fact they show themselves clearly for what they are by mocking Chris for his Irish roots and his preference for a chicken starter over caviar blinis – typical middle-class one-upmanship at the expense of someone they know is exactly where their family was not too far back. The real upper-classes wouldn’t dream of behaving in that way.) 

    The London Allen chose to represent was the expensive / tourist one which Chris wanted to join, and we duly get a pleasing squint at lots of favourite sites. But it would have been good to see a bit more of such local characters as the cockney estate agent who told Chris that if he didn’t like the price of the flat he was showing him ‘he could always go to Leeds!’  A wonderful cameo!  And surely silent chauffeur John Fortune might have been granted at least one comically po-faced delivery? (Dare I presume Allen didn’t know who he is? Otherwise why was he there, completely wasted?) 


    But all this is background. The plot starts to move as soon as Chris encounters Nola. Their juices rise visibly, setting the scene for subsequent encounters in which they portray a convincing enough sense of urgent lust – though I found it hard to believe that the ambitious, uptight Chris wasn’t sometimes faking it….  Which is why I found it difficult to take seriously his uninhibited striding out of the family’s country house in pursuit of Nola, apparently regardless of who might see him through the bay windows, when he caught sight of her distraught exit into the grounds in the pouring rain after yet another insult from ‘mama’ Hewett.  And even though their subsequent initial consummation in the soaking wheatfield was reasonably convincing, I couldn’t fully believe in that either!  Surely they were too near the house, with the attendant possibility of ‘papa’ Hewett turning up with loaded shotgun to scatter intruders, with quite unthinkable consequences for both, especially Nola, if he did. Then their return to the house – presumably by different routes – both soaked to the skin? Unseen and unquestioned by the waiting clan? Unlikely. 

    Moving on to the ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller part of the film, Chris impregnates the wrong woman, thereby setting up his own moral dilemma; which way will he take out of it? This is good stuff, providing some tense scenes, especially when Nola’s fear of ending up with nothing brings out the tough, justifiably aggressive, working-class climber Ms Johansson plays here so well. But if it has touches ‘worthy of the master’ (MH), it has others which certainly are not.  Planning to blast off a shotgun – twice – in a block of mansion flats in a busy part of London (South Kensington? Bayswater?) was hardly Hitchcockian. (These were not the blanks of North by North-West….). Then the fact that no one came running after the first shot and the precision with which Nola turned up precisely on time for hers (still with no instant crowd gathering), defied belief. (I’ll leave the fired shotgun to stink away undetected in the tennis bag, trusting the zip to hold firm in both the taxi and the theatre cloakroom…)  And wouldn’t James Nesbitt’s copper, with his justified suspicions of Chris after the revelations in Nola’s diary, have been just a bit more assiduous in real life? (‘Do you own a shotgun sir?’ ‘Er…no I don’t’.) So, next question please, detective Banner!! And then perhaps a little trip to examine the family’s guns….? But maybe I’m just too literal-minded. 

    The significance of both tennis ball and ring failing to cross their designated barriers? I agree that Allen produced a novel and interesting twist here whereby the ring’s rebound became the key to Chris’s unexpected freedom rather than his incarceration.  Chance had thrown him a helping hand he didn’t deserve. But did he really win?  The glimpse of an open copy of Crime and Punishment in his flat at the start of the film was an obvious signpost to something of what was to follow.  But unlike Raskolnikov, who was able both to confess his crimes and question the sort of a man he was, Chris stayed imprisoned behind his ludicrously excessive and despicable crime-spree, not only with confession the farthest thing from his mind, but lying spectacularly to the police to save his comfortable but arid new life-style. 

    But was even that not quite the end Allen intended?  Did he leave us with yet a further interesting twist? In the final scene when the whole family is gathered to celebrate the birth of his and Chloë’s son, Chris is seen standing apart from the celebrating, champagne-quaffing group, looking troubled and haunted (clearly by his own devils). So has he won after all?
     I was happy enough with Match Point as a generally entertaining film set in familiar territory and with a plot that sustained interest to the end. But never having been a particular fan of Allen, I can’t say whether ‘Woody’s back’ or not. Certainly Ms Johansson’s gutsy, earthy performance compensated for quite a few of its weaker aspects. 

    Brian comments:  Bob’s comments here are fascinating, and stimulating to the point of being (deliberately?) provocative.  Many of his more critical comments are indeed persuasive.  But I stand by my original assessment of this movie, whose underlying complexities and perceptions, far more subtle than appear on the surface, are confirmed by the long and interesting comments that it has prompted, including so many mutually contradictory points made on the same aspects of the film.  In particular, many commentators seem to have confused (or wrongly accused Woody Allen of confusing) the life-style of the genuinely upper class English family — landed gentry, upper-class for more than one generation, etc. — with the subtly different life-style of the middle-class family which has succeeded in its upward-mobility ambitions through the acquisition of great wealth through business, the kind of new recruits to the ‘upper class’ who have for centuries fed and replenished that class and helped to preserve it.  Allen seems to me to have observed the behaviour of this sub-class in the English social hierarchy with penetrating and often funny accuracy.  On the question of detailed implausibilities in the movie’s plot, lovingly listed in Bob’s comment above and by some other commentators, I think there’s no need to add to Guy Reynaud’s magisterial dismissal of such nit-picking in his comments immediately above.  On whether the operatic arias add to or detract from the impact of the film, I can only say that my own reactions closely resembled those of the American commentator and musicologist reproduced in another earlier comment.  My expertly re-mastered CD version of the Caruso arias does not confirm Bob’s suspicion that they were played at the wrong speed in the Match Point sound-track, so I think he can be reassured on that point.  Similarly, I think it inconceivable that Woody A. ‘didn’t know who John Fortune is’ — even if he hadn’t known before, there would have been plenty of people on the set who would have been quick to tell him; and anyway it’s common practice for prominent actors and other celebs to take tiny cameo parts in the movies of directors whom they admire, almost as a kind of in joke.  But Bob’s contribution here adds in a very welcome way to the rich mix of reactions to this film, probably not a great movie, but surely a genuinely classy and highly enjoyable one in its particular genre.

  8. Bob says:


    Brian, ‘deliberately provocative’? Not at all. To quote from my Yorkshire boyhood : ‘We speak as we find’…. But then, you have shown a tendency to bite the ankles of any reviewer, paid or unpaid, who hasn’t agreed with your views on MP. And now with GR’s perceptive pen more or less on your side it seems there’s no stopping you…. (Incidentally GR may have modestly corrected your labelling of him from ‘cinéaste’ to ‘cinéphile’, but having seen over many years the documentaries and short films he’s made, the scholarly articles and analyses, reviews and previews, etc, he’s written, we can be sure he isn’t a mere film fan like most of the rest of us….) 

    But after being called ‘deliberately provocative’, then having had my ‘nit-picking’ at the plot ‘ magisterially dismissed’ [not by me! — BLB], what else can I do but appeal to the people’s court?
    So I’ll start with your lengthy exposition above of the Hewetts’ life-style – which you suspect ‘many commentators had misunderstood, or had accused WA of misunderstanding.’ I’d already said I was surprised that ‘some critics had called them upper-class’ and had given my analysis of why they weren’t. But because critics sometimes get inside information on what directors intended (possibly by asking them), I floated the question of whether WA might have a blind spot about the Hs’ class. It was a throwaway question, valid sociologically perhaps, but of no importance in understanding the action. Allen gave a wonderfully mocking caricature of the rich, self-satisfied (upper-middle class) bunch the Hewetts were, which I’m sure most people thoroughly enjoyed and which I think I caught in my analysis. If Allen himself told me tomorrow he knew all along that they were u-m/c not u/c it wouldn’t retrospectively spoil my enjoyment of his portrayal of them one jot. I think you’re unnecessarily splitting an intellectual hair about what you think he thought. You seem sure you know, whereas I’m not. (Is mother Hewett so awful because, as I suggest, she’s not sufficiently upper-class to spot the breeding qualities in Nola rather than the coarseness and general unsuitability which her u-m classness shies away from? Or because she’s a typical unsympathetic Allen caricature of a materfamilias, on this occasion rich and politely snotty? Does it matter? And what if Allen says he just aimed generally at the sort of rich people he knows inhabit this part of London society?)

    Opera. I complained only about the funereal ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ sounding much too slow and deep even for Caruso’s baritonal tenor. OK. I’ll have to see  the film again. I only know that what I heard wasn’t right for the Caruso I’ve since listened to, and certainly not for Nemorino. But even in the cinema I was wondering ‘What on earth’s wrong with this?’ (I know the aria backwards.) I suspected it might be Caruso. But why have him anyway? True, he sang Nemorino umpteen times during his career, but wasn’t considered the best – probably because he wasn’t the true lyric tenor the role ideally needs. Harold Rosenthal says the best recordings of UFL were by di Stefano (my vote), Schipa (also v.good), and Gigli (too sobby ). (And add Gedda to them.) But Caruso’s voice was fine for the heroic Manrico’s ‘Mal reggendo’ etc which came after. My comment on WA’s possible tin ear was based on the awfulness of UFL as I heard it. OK. I’ll see the film again.

    Now my ‘nit-picking’. I can’t argue with GR that ‘the whole storyline takes precedence over the various incidents and episodes’, or with his citing Hitchcock’s comments to Truffaut ‘not to worry about plausibility and … take the audience on a ride (or even up the garden path) with the action’. Might as well add Godard’s recipe to sometimes ‘make the audience think something has happened which hasn’t.’ I’m all for it! I don’t care that I can’t work out the individual actions (and killings) in The Big Sleep no matter how often I see it.  (Who can?)  Hawks just carries me along in the web he weaves. But Allen’s plot is much simpler and hence more vulnerable. Take the killings: I wouldn’t have wanted to see Peter Lorre (M) actually kill little Effie (?) and the other kids in Düsseldorf. The buying of sweets, the innocently menacing walk hand-in-hand… then the floating balloon or the bouncing ball were much more chillingly effective in engaging us in the action. But surely Chris’s shotgun blasts in the mansion flat in South Ken(?) were of a different order of plausibility. (That we didn’t see the shots hit the bodies hardly created the same air of horror as Lang did.)

    So I’m saying it’s all very well to quote the masters. But is Allen one of them when it comes to suspense?
    Now take the ‘guilty sex-in-the-grass’ scene, supposedly the urgent initiation of the series of events leading to the eventual murder. Then think of the sexually Medusa-like Lana Turner enslaving the hapless John Garfield to her will (to bump off her husband) in The Postman Always Rings Twice; there’s furtive, steamy, guilty sex as it should be. (Did Tay Garnett do anything else as good?)  Both sets of lovers knew that what they were doing was wrong (the difference in their ultimate targets being irrelevant). But only one of the couples ‘led me on a journey’….  the other merely distracted me mildly.  
    Look, I understand the rules; but aren’t they made by the masters for their various genres? If Hitchcock, Hawks, Lang, Ford, Chabrol, Dmytryk, Siegel et al qualify as masters of suspence/action/ horror, just how low should the bar be put before entry is refused? Eastwood, Scorsese and other ‘moderns’ certainly pass. But where do we start to say, hey, you can’t just produce anything and then quote the masters’ rules at us. And I just don’t think Allen performs well enough here to have Hitchcock’s rules for the genre defend him.

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