Match Point

| January 16, 2006

It was nearly 3 o’clock, when I sat down at a corner table and talked to Tom. Of course that wasn’t his real name, because his Christian name was something he preferred not to mention. Although his identity remained a mystery, his thoughts and attitude consumed the restaurant like exhaust on a summer sidewalk.
He was the quintessential young hipster. His ripped jacket, tight jeans and metallic belt buckle cemented firmly the John Hancock of his defiance.
With a white pin portraying Mozart and a French-English dictionary near his half-empty coffee, Tom rubbed his hand through his greasy hair and shouted at me from across the way.
Tom: Bonjour Monsieur.
Not exactly sure who he was talking to, I turned around and addressed the situation.
Matthew: Me?
Tom: Banksy’s God you know. As close as you can get anyways.
He pointed to the recent copy of Esquire I had clutched in one of my hands. Inside was an article about famed, London graffiti artist Banksy. A man who’s striking street portraits and public shyness bestowed on him the reputation of a true innovator.
I nodded and smiled at the comment, but it seemed as if my reaction was not sufficient enough.
A slight sigh exhaled from his chapped lips, and he motioned with his head for me to come closer to the table.
Hesitant at first, I slowly made my way over to the table and sat down.
A strange aroma hung in the air. Like cologne, only not as appealing. As if a bowl of fruit had been left out in the sun too long.
Tom: Are you a fan of Banksy?
Matthew: You know I don’t really know his work that well; other than from the magazine.
Tom: It’s like, when you see him draw a soldier pissing on a wall, what do you think he’s saying?
Matthew: I’m not really sure.
Tom: It’s passion man. That’s all it is. It’s tearing down something ugly, and building it up beautiful. Period. It’s almost worth killing just to meet someone with that knowledge.
Matthew: So murder is justifiable as long as your intentions in the end are good?
He stared and smiled at me for a few seconds. As if taking the statement, lying it on a cold, operating table and slicing it open with the fine-tipped instruments of knowledge and common sense.
Tom: Passion is a strange thing. When it has you, it has you. It’s like a fish and a hook. The fish isn’t going to get the hook out, until its ripped out by the fisher. Passion’s always the fisher, and unfortunately we’re always the fish.
He rubbed his hand through his greasy hair, and then finished off the warm, caramel-colored drink.
The trumpets sound, and the explosions of heartbreak and defeat rage as the battle between love and lust march through the minefields of Woody Allen’s latest effort Match Point; an erotic thriller which defies the expectations of a typical Allen film, and instead lays the groundwork for an exciting and intriguing blend of romance and suspense.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as Chris Wilton, an acclaimed tennis player who has retired from the professional world of sports to pursue a more meaningful career in London.
Gaining a job as a tennis instructor at an exclusive country club, Wilton soon runs into wealthy socialite Tom Hewett, played by Matthew Goode.
The two quickly develop a friendship, and before long are engaging in trips to the opera, as well as weekends at Hewett’s country estate.
It is there that Wilton meets Hewett’s fiancĂ© Nola Rice, played by Scarlett Johansson.
With radiant blonde hair, and pouting red lips, this expert of seduction casts her spell over Wilton, who in turn falls madly in love with her.
At the same time though, Tom’s sister Chloe, played by Emily Mortimer, has fallen for Wilton.
Seeing an opportunity for financial stability, Wilton begins dating Chloe and soon the couple marries.
His passion for Nola though does not diminish, and with a new position at the Hewett Corporation, proceeds to have an affair with her.
What follows though is a dizzying descent into the world of treachery and deceit.
As the affair continues, Nola reveals to Wilton that she is pregnant. Not wanting to leave his financial comfort, Wilton comes to terms with the realities of the situation, and embarks on a decision that will alter the lives of him and his love one’s forever.
Like a serve from an aggressive racket, Match Point delivers a volley of unclear dilemmas for the protagonist to overcome.
Allen’s grip on characters and story have not lost their flare, and as the action barrels down the realms of uncertainty, the audience soon finds themselves engulfed in a world of lost passion.
What helps to secure the thematic and narrative elements of the piece are the technical aspects; namely the photographic and framing components.
Throughout the picture, Allen’s camera frequently remains at a distance from the characters. Moving slyly through trees, doorways and descending staircases, the movement creates a haunting and foreboding mood. As if some unwanted stranger were intruding upon their lives.
The distance also helps to illustrate the emotional strain of Chris Wilton’s relationship with his wife.
One scene which displays this quite rightfully is when the couple is sitting down for breakfast. Situated on opposite ends of the table, the conversation is sparse, and lacks any true affection. At one point Chloe plans their attempts at pregnancy almost as if it were a chore rather than a joy.
The relationship has become mechanical and predictable. Reminiscent of the breakfast scene in Citizen Kane, the two individuals dwell in separate states of mind. The wants and desires are not reciprocated by the other party, and in turn lead to an isolation of mind, body and soul.
Music as well sustains the vitality of the piece, and propels it into thrilling and meaningful territory.
Wilton is a tremendous admirer of opera, and in fact, Match Point itself is substantially operatic.
A man who finds himself at the epicenter of a loveless marriage which leads to an adulterous pregnancy, creates enough tragedy and excitement for even the most bloodstained of stages.
Music is used here more as a progression device. Although it is meant to contribute to the atmosphere, during the duration of the film, it rarely plays over a scene which contains dialog.
This absence of score, allows the audience to concentrate on the words and encounters of the characters.
The lack of music immediately increases the uncomfortable nature of the interactions. With so much at stake, it’s hard to decide which course of action seems most befitting to the Wilton character.
Allen does not use music to fill space, but rather motivate and heighten it. It is this restrained judgment that inevitably leads to a richer and more rewarding story.
Using the right tools, Allen has carved and chiseled out a piece of cinematic art. Like the paintings that populate the walls and homes of the characters, the often-abstract brushstrokes have crafted an exquisite and often alarming portrait of lust and obsession.
In many ways, Wilton resembles the Scottie character in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. He is a man so consumed with the possibilities of passion that he is willing to sacrifice everything just for the slightest touch by the one he loves. Even if it means endangering his own life.
When a tennis ball hits the top of the net, skill no longer controls the momentum but rather luck. If the ball falls forward, then the player wins. But if it falls backwards, then defeat comes quick.
It is this suspended hope that creates the major tension within Match Point. At any moment, a gust of wind could blow the ball and Chris Wilton’s chances away in the breeze.
Passion has a strange effect on people. It is what motivates and attracts an individual to pursue even the most seemingly impossible achievements.
And as Wilton fends for himself in an over powering arena, the outcome of the game will depend upon the degree of his passion, and the unpredictable bounce of the ball.
For Allen, the ball has bounced forward. Though he is pushing 70, his inventiveness and grace behind the camera has not subsided, and with Match Point, he has offered up a dazzling display of atmosphere, story and photography.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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