Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Match Point (2005)

Then Of all Woody’s films Match Point is the one with which I have the most complex relationship. Essentially I can’t decide if it’s a work of genius or utter rubbish and genuinely oscillate between the two with each viewing. I’ll let you know what I think this time in a moment. On first viewing, I said:

“Admittedly as the film begins and for about the first ten or fifteen minutes things do seem a bit queer. The clipped accents; characters talking in full sentences; the sometimes odd pronunciations. But somewhere in there I realised that actually what was happening is that Allen was imprinting a pre-sixties filmmaking style into the contemporary setting. Compare the work which is going on here with David Lean's pictures (particular Brief Encounter) or Gaslight productions and it all makes perfect sense. It could be argued that this is because those of the British films the director has been exposed, so of course that's what he'll be doing. But I think he's just decided to go in that direction. I think he could have produced something more akin to the Working Title or much more contemporary, but because of the type of story he's trying to tell he's gone for something akin to the earlier days of British filmmaking. Watched under those conditions, it's an excellent and probably refreshing piece of work.”

That cinema trip was horrendous. As I noted in this review of a Q&A about film exhibition, because Allen's had been sold as a mainstream thriller (the above trailer is hilariously inappropriate), within about ten minutes of the white on black writing, the frozen tennis ball and the portentious/pretentious opening dialogue the audience began chatting and despite shushing a few people there wasn’t much I could do. It’s another example of the exhibitor not having the balls to sell a film as it is and leaving those people who know what they’re getting to suffer the disquiet of those who don’t.

Within days of posting a review, my old friend Louise took the film to task for its realism, to which I countered that Woody is in the fantasy market to which she replied that at the very least “(you) need to get the logical, basic facts of a story right in order to show you respect the common sense and knowledge of your audience before you can take them beyond the relams of reality and what would happen in "real life", whatever that.” We agreed to disagree. I still think that even if a film isn’t in the sci-fi genre can still create its own internal reality from human interaction to environment even if they don’t match the norm and take some poetic license.

Now Formally my original review says everything I’d want to say. This time around I laughed at some unintentionally funny moments (like the cooing over Andrew Lloyd-Webber) but understood what Woody was trying to achieve in trying to wrap a morality tale around a thriller. Emma Brockes in this interview with Woody says “Match Point is his return to form”. But I don’t think it’s a better or worse film than Melinda and Melinda, but the change in venue gave many people the chance to look at his work with a fresh perspective.

I’ve subsequently discovered that Woody originally wrote the script to be shot in New York but rearranged it for London because of the BBC related financing which cropped up. Listening to the dialogue you can hear and see once again a repetition of the figures which have populated many of his films; Scartlett in the Judy Davis role, Emily Mortimer as Mia. Even with the Anglophile revisions it’s not impossible to imagine those actresses speaking this dialogue quite naturally.

The film is of course the first of Scarlett’s trilogy (so far) with Woody. Despite what you might be thinking, she an interesting sort of actress; on the one hand she can play the film star roles but just as often her work is more clearly in the realm of character. Her two films for 2005 were this and Michael Bay’s underrated The Island and then in 2006 we find Scoop, The Black Dahlia and The Prestige and they’re all very different performances, different again to both The Girl With A Pearl Earing and the film which most increased her profile, Lost In Translation.

In Match Point she’s called upon to be immediately sexy but with a certain bo-ho lustre, a counterpoint to Emily Mortimer’s representation of the established English rose. To an extent Nola is a fairly one dimensional figure; like Anglica Houston she has to give the impression of being unhinged but of having been led into that emotion. But one of my favourite Johansson scene is her slightly unhinged drunk moment in the pub where she unfolds herself and you’re not entirely sure she hasn’t embraced the method and had a couple before turning up in front of the cameras.

But I do have problems. The film drags horribly in the middle which is always a problem when Woody nudges over ninety minutes and he’s telling much the same story as Crimes and Misdemeanors which managed to cover the material in a third of the time. Character beats are often stated and restated for no good reason; Woody seems to be trying to make us understand why Myers would take the actions he does by showing us the generosity of his father in law and the position he’s found himself in, yet the opening hour of the film should still be half as long.

But Woody’s disregard of the traditional thriller structure does at least offer us the pleasure of that beautifully weird scene in which James Nesbitt (in the Woody Allen role) shooting up right in his bed from a dream because he thinks he’s worked out the process only to have his theory blown away by subsequent, circumstantial events. It’s a pity Woody wasn’t in the mood to spin-off Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner into Scoop or any of the later films like a kind of investigative Caldicott and Charters or Jay and Silent Bob. It would certainly have livened up Cassandra’s Dream.

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