Match Point

Match Point begins with a tennis volley in which a ball hits the net, and for a moment through might luck drop on one or the other side of the net, winning the game for one of the players. In a later scene, the only clue to the film’s Hitchcockian murder mystery is similarly planted to carry through the allegory. Director Woody Allen has indeed achieved a certain poetic touch in the film, which is a British drama thankfully spared of his usual mousy, whining, sweaky-voiced presence. The main theme is the softened snobbery of the upper class in the 21st century as compared to the rigid prejudices of the 19th century as portrayed in the novels of Jane Austen. Patriarch Alec Hewett (played by Brian Cox) is indeed a genial father of two marriageable children, daughter Chloe (played by Emily Mortimer) and son Tom (played by Matthew Goode). Alec derives his millions as the owner of an investment house and other assets, while redeeming himself by contributing generously to art. Tom is dating Nola Rice (played by Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring actress from Colorado who lives beyond her means, having recently secured income solely from a paid performance in a TV commercial. Although usually disheveled, she has somehow met Tom, who evidently is infatuated by her good looks. Nevertheless, Tom’s mother, Eleanor (played by Penelope Wilton), disapproves of the relationship, which appears to be heading toward the matrimonial altar. Meanwhile, Chris Wilton (played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) has just arrived in London, having retired as an Irish world tennis champ, and he is hired as a tennis instructor at an exclusive club where he coaches Tom and meets onlooker Nola. Impressed that Chris is interested in opera, Tom introduces him to his father, who is pleased by Chris’s knowledge of Dostoyevsky, and to his sister Chloe, who is obviously attracted to his handsome appearance as a possible marriage partner in order to avoid the fate of spinsterhood that often results from the social isolation of daughters in rich families whose looks and personalities are ordinary. Alec responds by arranging lucrative employment for Chris at his investment firm so that he will have the capital to provide a comfortable life for a possible son-in-law should the occasion for marriage arise. Thus, there are two couples, and they indeed get along famously. However, on viewing the ravishing Nola, Chris finds himself lustfully attracted. In time, Tom and Nola break up, Tom finds someone of his station, and Chris marries Eleanor. However, one of the first statements by Eleanor after the wedding is that now she wants to have a baby. Her remark is a turnoff for Chris, as is her constant nagging on the subject. Nola, meanwhile, disappears from London, having briefly flown back to Colorado. When she returns, Chris runs into her, and the two begin a serious of sizzling trysts, ultimately resulting a situation in which she claims to be carrying his baby and demands that Chris divorce his wife, whom she believes has become increasingly unbearable. Chris is now confronted with a dilemma. Should he break off the extramarital affair on the part of someone who threatens to tell all to his wife, or should he get a divorce and live a much less comfortable life financially and socially with a very demanding Coloradan? Will lust prevail over economic self-interest? Match Point then becomes a murder mystery in which a detective believes that he has solved a crime but lacks proof without tracking down further evidence. Match Point, nevertheless, ends as a window into how the Thatcherite class structure in England trumps Victorian romanticism, remarkably updating Jane Austen. MH

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