The reviews hold up reasonably well (though I had forgotten that I even saw many of these movies!), so I am leaving this page online. One adjustment, however: I seem to have been allergic to paragraphs, writing the reviews in large walls of text. I will be adding some line breaks to de-monolith the verbiage.
"Match Point": Worth seeing
Just caught up with this Woody Allen movie. More on it later, but I liked it, to a (match) point. It's more a food-for-thought type of film than something you actually enjoy as you're watching it (though aesthetically it's above average). It's a drama that plays everything straight, with not a single hint of humor. Even the dramatic scenes are completely dry, the camera hanging back from the action and the editing kept simple, matter-of-fact. These qualities make "Match Point" unlike most Woody Allen films, and if it weren't for the incessant use of opera music in the background (the kind where you can hear the scratces of the original vinyl record), or for the occasional scene where people talk over each other, you'd hardly know Allen was the writer/director.
The only other connection is that "Match Point" continues with a theme Allen started in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" -- the fact that in real life, sometimes people do horrible things and get away with it. This could be Allen's way of supplying an antidote to the infantilizing moral conventions of standard Hollywood movies, or maybe Allen just wants to confront the sinful side of humanity, man's dual nature, etc. But after watching "Match Point," I'm almost inclined to wonder if Allen himself committed murder at some time in his life and got away scot-free (or knows somebody who has, or who was the victim of such a scenario).
Whatever Allen's inspiration, in "Match Point" he very singlemindedly lays the groundwork for his main character (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) to commit murder. What's interesting is that we are led to relate to him and understand his motivation. He's an impoverished tennis instructor who ingratiates himself with a wealthy British family and ends up marrying the daughter and being groomed for a position in the father's company. In this realm he's smooth, careful and passionless, but when he meets Scarlett Johanssen (who's dating his girlfriend's brother), he can't help but start an affair with her. The affair gets more and more serious until it's on the verge of imploding his carefully constructed life, a life dependent upon the good will and trust of others. His only solution, he decides after wimping out on doing the right thing by coming clean and sacrificing everything, is murder.
Throughout all this we are led to sympathize with him and only him -- largely because everybody else in the film is kept at arm's length (almost every character is shot from a distance; only Meyers gets close-ups). I can think of a number of other films that lead you to follow a hero who turns out to be an antihero: "Election" comes to mind. Then there's the murder clean-up scene in "Psycho," where the viewer is led to hope Anthony Perkins will not miss anything that might give him away. My favorite example of a sympathy-for-the-bad-guys movie is Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," where you see two murderers' psyches unravel after they kill a guy for kicks.
Allen, like Hitchcock, is drawing from the themes in Dostoyevsky's "Crime & Punishment" (we glimpse the protagonist reading the book in a brief scene), but he's trying for something different here -- sober acknowledgement of the average psyche's capacity to kill and then move on. The murder is almost banal, and though not easy, it's just a matter of preparation, timely action and a bit of luck. I felt strange watching this, not quite sure what effect Allen wanted the story to have on me.
Allen is equally opaque when depicting the "other woman." We aren't given much reason to like Johanssen, just enough to understand her. She's an unsuccessful actress trying to escape her abusive and neglectful parents in an abusive and neglectful world. She's someone who matters to few people, whereas the rich girl the protagonist marries (the comparably plain Emily Mortimer) is loved, a little pampered, and has learned to matter by carving a modest place in the world. It might also be added that she and her good-natured family are more than a little dull. But they're a part of a connected world. If one of them were murdered, there would be fallout, while the muder of Johanssen, who lives alone in a low-rent apartment with few friends, barely causes a blip other than for a few neighbors to shake their heads and a mediocre police detective to think about her case a little longer than usual.
I've written too much with too little to say, but "Match Point" has enough underlying ideas to be worth seeing once and only once. And oh yeah, it's better than "Interiors."