If Match Point is sometimes a crock, at least it’s a fun crock, a marvelously slick and sexy thriller twice as lean as any of Allen’s other recent films—and one that offers Scarlett Johansson the first honest-to-God bright-lights movie-star performance of her career. It’s less ambitious than anything he’s tried in years and better for it. Woody’s traditional three-act film is paced, shot, and plotted elegantly, from the way Rhys Meyers effortlessly befriends a wealthy scion to the old-school manner in which Allen bookends his movie with two mirrored philosophical vignettes about chance. He fights the urge to score laughs when they wouldn’t propel the plot—and by applying the same romantic eye to London that he’s used on New York, he makes the seduction between Johansson and Rhys Meyers appear all the more alluring. The Royal Opera House and Norman Foster’s Gherkin look twice as good as they do on the Travel Channel.
If ‘Match Point’ is sometimes a crock, at least it’s a fun crock—less ambitious than anything Woody’s tried for years, and better for it.
But I fear we’re less likely to end up remembering Match Point as Woody’s comeback than honoring it as his last well-made film. He himself has admitted that he has “learned nothing . . . no wisdom,” and perhaps we should take him at his word. The plot of his film hinges on how luck can ruin your life or save it—and pure dumb luck is how he ended up in London. Match Point’s revelation is Johansson, but Woody first cast Kate Winslet, and lucked into his new muse only after Winslet dropped out for family reasons.
The film’s fresh locale disguises the fact that Woody is trotting out the same tired old tropes: a man caught between another one of Woody’s flighty young bad girls and another one of Woody’s good boring wives. He subs the Thames for the East River, Verdi for Gershwin—and just how different is this movie from Crimes and Misdemeanors after all?
Still, Woody’s London sojourn allows us to love him again, at least for a while. It’s given him new actors to play with, and the excuse to write—finally—a male lead who doesn’t sound just like him, if only because he has a British accent. What a relief it is, for the first time in years, to be able to relax and enjoy a Woody Allen film. Maybe we both just needed some time apart.