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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Out of Our Control
by Jeffrey Chen

Woody Allen has been through so much and made so many movies by now that he can probably do whatever he wants these days with little regard for critical and public reaction. I think, as a creative force, that's the best place to be. When you're just starting out, other people's opinions matter so much -- not only can they make or break you in the industry, they have more potential for psychological effect when your skin hasn't yet developed a tough thickness. But Allen can make a movie like Match Point and let the chips fall where they may, barely needing to give it a second thought.

This also happens to be the main thrust of Match Point, a movie that could come only from the point of view of someone who's been through so much that he realizes many circumstances are beyond his control. The movie begins with the sight of a tennis ball going back and forth across a net and the line, "The man who said 'I'd rather be lucky than good' saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck." It proceeds to chronicle the journey of the speaker, an opportunistic ex-tennis pro living in London who puts on his best face to climb its social ladders but who is laid bare as a disreputable scab to the movie audience.

This fellow, Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), has played enough tennis to know that luck can decide the course of many events, yet he works quite hard to achieve his ends, endeavoring to leave little to chance. However, he'll take what he's given when he happens to be given good things, such as his newfound association with the Hewetts, a local rich family. Motivated by selfishness and lust for wealth and status, he uses his charms to find a way to possibly marry into the family, but he also can't help being drawn toward Tom Hewett's (Matthew Goode) fiancee, Nola (Scarlett Johansson).

Match Point is a departure for Allen, usually known for his comedies. This story is a thriller concentrating on Chris and Nola's growing obsession with each other, even after Chris does marry Tom's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Whether or not he gets caught in his affair is something he tries his best to control, but of course certain things don't always go the way we'd expect. Even as the film continues to explore its stated theme, what comes to the forefront is the way Allen slowly, skillfully builds up a tense situation that primes itself for an unpredictable explosion.

Also on display is a daringness to tell a story that only grows more unsavory by the minute. It does give the movie a moralistic feel, which results in the characters feeling less like people and more like pawns. However, Allen's strongest stroke may be in actually giving Chris a conscience that only emerges once his situation becomes more drastic. It doesn't make him sympathetic, but it does reveal the human quality of wanting to believe, even against years-refined logical assumptions, even in the very man who narrates the film's opening line, that there is karma in the world; that justice, on some level, is universal.

Match Point's final act is coldly wicked, perfectly set up with black humor and manipulated expectations. Its conceit that much of life is chalked up to luck is simple, almost throwaway, but it's illustrated here with a veteran's pace -- patient yet efficient. If people like or dislike this alternative Allen film -- a thriller set far away from his beloved New York -- it's out of his control. But we're all better served when the artist just puts his work out there, letting the ball drop on whichever side of the net it will.

(Released by DreamWorks and rated "R" for some sexuality.)

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