Release Date:  January 20, 2006 (wide)
Rating:  R (for some sexuality)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  124 min.
Director:  Woody Allen
Actors:  Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton

Match Point is the best Woody Allen movie since Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989, but with such a weak group of films in between, the question remains:  Is "Match Point" good enough to recommend? The answer is yes, but with several important qualifications.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Chris Wilton, a former Irish tennis pro living in England, where his budding friendship with Tom (Matthew Goode) draws him into the jet set. Chris falls for Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), lands a nice job at the firm of his father-in-law-to-be (Brian Cox), and spends his evenings at the opera.

Chris seems to have it all, but his first encounter with Tom’s fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), ignites passion, and neither Chris’ involvement with Chloe nor Nola’s engagement prevent them from giving in to their lust.

After his marriage to Chloe, Chris learns that Tom has called off his engagement to Nola, whose retreat to the United States leaves Chris to deal with his wife’s repeated requests to start a family. But Chris desires Nola more than domesticated life, and when she reappears, he convinces her to reignite their affair.

After Nola’s demands on Chris become more than he can bear, he takes matters into his own hands, pushing aside any guilt related to the consequences of his actions.

The film’s plot has been described as “Hitchcockian” in reference to the romantic triangle, crime, and moral guilt. But Match Point is at its most Hitchcockian in echoing an important element of Hitchcock’s 1946 masterpiece, Notorious:  alcoholism.

Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto, in his seminal work, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, points to drinking as the “major metaphor” of Notorious, which also, like Match Point, tells a story of an unhappily married character (Alicia, played by Ingrid Bergman) who, like the unhappy married characters in Match Point, uses alcohol as a crutch, and as an excuse for her actions.

Match Point includes several overt references to its characters’ excess alcohol consumption and its consequences. Nola needs a drink “to pull [herself] together.” She blames her mother for drinking too much after her father left the family. She tells Chris she’s had too much to drink. After making another blunt comment, Chloe’s mother is told she’s had one too many gin and tonics. Chris tells Nola he likes her when she drinks. “You get flirtatious,” he says, before embracing her in the rain. After they have sex, Nola attempts to excuse her behavior by telling Chris, “I was upset. I was drinking.” Chris says he “shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach.” Tom refers to two characters by saying, “You’re both nuts … or drunk.” After the film’s climactic act, Chris awakes next to a partially consumed glass of wine, which he then finishes off.

Although Match Point is absorbing, it is a deeply troubling portrait of how godless characters struggle, but fail, to maintain basic standards of morality, and of how sin leads to further sin. Repeated transgressions lead to a disturbing crime toward the film’s conclusion, and the question of whether justice will be served remains in doubt until the final scene. The punch line may leave a sour taste for many, but so much damage has been done to the character’s conscience by that point, and so many biblical truths writ large, that it’s difficult not to come down in favor of the film as a picture of how continued sin leads to a hardening of the heart.

Why do the wicked prosper? The question is as old, at least, as the book of Ecclesiastes, but worth pondering. “The hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live. … But he who is joined with all the living has hope” (Ecclesiastes 9:3-4).

Chris’ philosophy of life differs: “You learn to push the guilt under the rug and go on,” he says toward the end of the film. But those dead to their own conscience still must answer to an ultimate Authority. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”  (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  The Lord’s name is taken in vain. “Hell”
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Excessive drinking, several scenes of smoking
  • Sex/Nudity:  Chris has sex with a woman he has just met; Chris and Nola have sex several times; The characters are covered by bed sheets in all instances; Chloe wants to have Chris’ baby; a character quips that Chris must be “shooting blanks”
  • Marriage/Divorce:  Tom breaks off his engagement to Nola after falling for another woman, who is pregnant by their wedding day; Chris marries Chloe but lusts after Nola. Nola speaks of an earlier bad marriage. Chris lies to Chloe about his affair with Nola
  • Violence/Crime:  Shotguns are loaded; two murders
  • Religion:  God is barely considered, and when He is, He is mocked. Chris’ worldview is based on luck and fate