‘Match Point’ is a so-so, sub-Ripley tale of ambition and deception that is set amid the semi-urbane, semi-cultured and very, very boring modern English upper classes. It takes its name from a rather laboured tennis metaphor that allows Allen to riff with little revelation on the amoral, unpredictable nature of luck, as illustrated by a slow-mo opening shot of a tennis ball balancing on the net, ready to fall either side. Allen’s ambiguous anti-hero is Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an Irish tennis coach in London who adopted the game as a ‘way out of a poor existence’. His job introduces him to a wealthy, young Chelsea set whose men follow daddy into the City and whose women flirt with running art galleries as a diverting hobby before motherhood.
It’s this world into which Wilton marries: a parallel universe of people with ‘epic’ CD collections, food (baked potato with truffles, anyone?) that’s ‘yum-yum’ and mothers who exert worrying control over their sons’ choice of girlfriends. Greed, both material and sexual, gets the better of Wilton; he reaps the financial benefits of a marriage to rich-but-nice Chloe (Emily Mortimer) but also strikes up an affair with his wife’s brother’s ex-fiancée, Nora (Scarlett Johansson), who is a feisty American actress who can’t get any work (unlike Johansson, who will continue to get plenty if she continues to deliver such seductive performances as this). Wilton can’t get enough of the good life; he wins a lucrative job in the City courtesy of his father-in-law and precariously juggles a comfortable, if dull, domestic arrangement with passionate sessions at Nora’s small flat (complete with baby oil).
Trapped in a loveless marriage, Wilton is torn between two vices, one of the flesh, one of the wallet. Nora wants him to leave his wife; but the perks of his new lifestyle (big riverside flat, weekends at country homes) just keep on coming. Desperate situations call for desperate measures…
Surprisingly, considering Allen’s outsider status on this project, it’s not London or even the language and habits of the Brits that he gets wrong (although when he does slip up, he cascades). His cast of refined toffs are recognisable, if never likeable, and their dialogue is passable, if never palatable. And realism is not the order of the day anyway; instead Allen plays this operatic meditation on fate as high theatre, allowing for a large measure of coincidental plotting (cue lots of bumping into each other in the street). But it’s not enough to rescue an ending that is lazy, ludicrous and, disastrously, leans on the weakest of twists, as revealed in an ill-conceived epilogue featuring Ewen Bremner and James Nesbitt as police detectives.
The main problem is that, in dramatic terms, it’s all rather inert. Rhys Meyers fails to dig deep into the ambiguity and complexity of his character. Is Wilton simply evil? Or should we feel that the unreasonable demands of the clawing world in which he lives partly justify and drive his actions? It’s difficult to care. Rhys Meyers pouts his way through the film, ably assisted by a nice line in V-neck cashmere jumpers, never offering us a character interesting enough to consider. His behaviour might become increasingly extreme and rash, yet we feel he’s backed himself into a tight corner rather than constructed an entirely false existence that can only be resolved with violence. There’s a pleasing sense of social claustrophobia – but it’s not enough to make Allen’s film work.