Match Point (2005)

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Match Point is the first film (chronologically) of Woody Allen’s that I had seen before I decided to go through all of his films in order.  I had seen it a couple times before watching it again, and I was looking forward to it, curious to see if my opinion of the film would change at all.

It’s a great film, and nothing’s really changed.  It begins with a slow motion, static shot of a tennis court as the ball flies over the net, back and forth.  The narrator, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), discusses the power of luck, and how it’s better to be lucky than to be good.

Chris is a mysterious young man looking to establish himself.  Every expression is carefully chosen, and he only seems to smile when he needs to disarm someone, helping them open up to him and letting him into their lives.  We know nothing about him before he applies to be a tennis instructor other than he used to be a professional tennis player.  All that really serves to do is to justify him getting the tennis job.

He is outwardly kind and polite.  His manners help ingratiate him with everyone around him.  One day he coaches Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), and they get along famously.  When Tom learns that Chris likes the opera, he encourages him to come along with the Hewett family to their opera box seats.  There Chris meets Tom’s parents and Tom’s sister, Chloe.

Chloe loves Chris immediately, and Tom has to inform him that she likes him.  Chris doesn’t seem to notice or care too much, but he goes along with Chloe’s attraction to him like he’s playing a role, which, it becomes clear that he might be.

Chris and Chloe have their first meaningful interaction when Chris plays a game of tennis with her, after Tom urges her to play.  The match is polite and playful, and an attraction seems to develop.

Not long after, however, Chris, while wandering through the Hewett’s mansion, finds Nola (Scarlett Johansson) smoking a cigarette and playing table tennis.  Chris is immediately taken with her, and he’s remarkably flirtatious and forward.  She toys with him, and the power dynamic is starkly different than that of Chris and Chloe.

But Nola’s taken.  She is Tom’s fiancee.  A little while later, after a quiet and intense pursuit, Chris and Nola make love in a rainy field.

Later Chris and Chloe get married.  Then Tom and Nola break up.  Then Chris runs into Nola at a museum and urges her to give him her number.  That’s when they begin a really intense affair.

While all this is going on, Chris has become an integral part of the Hewett family.  Chloe’s father gets him a cushy job at his company, and Chris takes advantages of all the perks, getting driven around town, having his own secretary, etc.

The plot thickens when, on a vacation, Nola urgently tries to talk to Chris.  It’s the first time the affair really intrudes on his life.  She tells him she’s pregnant, underscoring the difference in Chris’ relationship with her and with his wife, who struggles to become pregnant.  Chloe really wants a child, and everything about that desire makes their love life cold and formulaic, though a lot of that is, of course, Chris’ passionate affair with Nola.

Poor Chloe, she doesn’t deserve any of this.

Chris promises Nola that he’ll leave Chloe.  He tells her he’ll do it after they go on a three week vacation which is then promptly cancelled.  Chris doesn’t inform Nola that the trip is cancelled, and when she sees him around town she’s furious.  Chris begins to formulate his plan… getting a shotgun from his father-in-law’s house.

Then we get to the fateful day in which Chris, using a sawed-off shotgun, shoots and kills Nola’s neighbor before killing Nola.  He stages the entire thing to look like a break in.  To do this, he steals jewels and medicine from the elderly neighbor, stuffing them in his pocket.

Later, in a scene mirroring the first shot of the film, Chris tosses the jewelry into the river.  The last piece is the elderly woman’s ring.  He flings it to the river, but it hits the railing, like the top of the net, and bounces back, landing on the ground.

The police investigate the murder and track down Chris because Nola had a diary, and his name is all over it.  While he has a possible motive, the whole thing looks like a break in, and Chris is free to go home.

That night Chris is haunted by the ghosts of Nola and Nola’s neighbor, and he tries in vain to explain himself to then.  We quickly cut to the detective waking up in bed, claiming he knows how it happened.  And he’s right.  When he lists his suspicion, it’s exactly the way it went down.  The problem, for the detective, is that there was another murder nearby, done in a similar fashion, and the killer, a drug addict, had the elderly woman’s ring with him.

It’s such specific evidence that the case is closed.

The film ends with Chris, Chloe and the whole Hewett family returning home with Chris and Chloe’s new child.  The family toasts to the new child while Christ stands facing the window, the camera very close to his haunted expression.

So, the film is about luck.  I only slightly remembered that, and than I read a quote about the film in which Woody Allen outright said that Match Point is a film about luck.  So upon this rematch, I decided to play very close attention to see if I could spot the references to luck.  Well, it turns out you hardly have to pay attention, it’s stated everywhere over the film.

In the opening narration, Chris discusses the importance of luck, in a dinner scene he speculates again on the importance of luck, when Tom hears he got the new corner office, Tom calls him a “lucky swine.”

And Chris is an incredibly lucky person.  I mean, what are the odds of him throwing the ring, it hitting the railing and him not hearing it, then a drug addict committing a murder nearby and also having the ring on him.  It’s insane, but that’s the point of the film.  Though I’m not sure what that says on a bigger scale.

There are a few moments in which the film discusses what luck implies, which is a world devoid of meaning.  The detectives are looking to fit all the puzzle pieces together, and there’s no puzzle piece for luck.  It must make sense, so they go with the story that makes the most sense.

When talking to his ghosts late at night, Chris says he should get caught, because that would suggest some semblance of meaning.  In the earlier dinner scene when Chris discusses luck, he also says he doesn’t believe in anything really.  He only believes in luck because luck only exists in a world where nothing really matters or makes sense.

Boy, Chris, what a character, huh?  He’s like Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive (2011).  There’s so little to go on with him, but he’s handsome and white so he can get away with certain things.  His eyes are so piercing, and everything he says sounds like it’s being programmed from a computer.  He’s very calculating.  When he grabs the gun to shoot Nola, he does so before he seems to decide he wants to do it.  After he grabs the gun he tells her he will still leave his wife, and we have to wonder if he’s outright lying (I vote yes) or if he really doesn’t know yet.

And everything about his relationship with Chloe and the Hewetts comes across like an entrepreneur climbing the ranks.  He likely never would have ended up with Chloe had he not noticed her overt attraction to him.  He’s like a venus fly trap.

Chris is so cold and composed all the time, that it is enriching to watch his behavior with Nola.  I mean enriching as in it helps us look into him and see what’s really going on.  That said, I still don’t know what was going on with him.  He’s so machine-like, saying all the right things with Chloe and at work, and he’s so animalistic with Nola.  They even meet almost exclusively in her apartment, like it’s a zoo exhibit except instead of feeding time it’s rump time.  “Come on kids, at 4 pm they’re fluffing the lions.”

The business face Chris puts on at work is the same one he uses with Chloe.  It’s all a part of the same world that he’s blending into like Leonard Zelig.

It’s such a strange film, in that regard.  In movies we’re so used to everything coming to the surface.  If there’s a secret, it will be exposed.  In Match Point that doesn’t happen, and Chris starts to look like a swollen volcano, having to keep this in.  There’s no one he can confide in, and this reflects a similar sentiment Nola held, when she told Chris she was going crazy because she couldn’t tell anyone about the affair.

So watching the rest of the Hewett family have no idea what Chris is up to is a bit shocking.  It only adds severe distance between Chris and the people who will now forever be a part of his life.  Even his child might make him recall the child Nola never had when he cut her life short.

So you can read the ending in two ways.  He gets away with it, and he’s lucky, or he will forever be haunted by his actions, and because of that he’s not lucky.  There is some meaning in the world after all.

Chris should be haunted.  He’s so robotic, that Allen could have written him in a way in which he gets away with murder and celebrates his escape.  His relationship with Nola was really just sexual, from what we saw, so it wouldn’t be completely out of the blue if that’s how it ended.  But Chris is broken up about it.  He seems to have really loved Nola, but that kind of love often prevents you from doing crazy things, like killing the one you love and an innocent woman.

So he doesn’t really get away with it, because he’s stuck with what he did, and he’s stuck with Chloe, whom he doesn’t really seem to love.  He just wanted the safety of a home, a wife and a job.  Oh, and the driver who escorts him around town, he wanted that too.

Lastly, Match Point has some similarities to an earlier Truffaut film I wrote about, 1964’s The Soft Skin.  Each of Truffaut’s films that I have seen so far have had negative endings, with varying degrees.  In The Soft Skin, the main character is shot by his wife, and Truffaut seemed to be reacting against the Hollywood trope of having every character ride off into the sunset.  He showed that not all stories end well.  Yet, in The Soft Skin and Jules and Jim (1962), the character who is responsible for the sad end of the main character is brought to justice, whether it be their own death or getting arrested.

Having Chris get away with murder is another fold in this type of ending.  It goes from happy ending –> sad ending with ultimately justice –> sad ending with no justice.

I can’t help but think that Match Point is partially molded by The Soft Skin.  I touched on the similarities when I wrote about that film, but it’s also about a long-term affair, and it ends with a shotgun-induced murder.  Another similarity, though on a smaller scale, is the elevator in Nola’s apartment building looking like the elevator in Pierre’s building.

The Soft Skin ends with a close up of the murderer’s face as a smile slowly grows like an infection.  Match Point ends with a close up of the murderer’s face, and it looks like he’ll never smile again, not that he ever smiled much to begin with.

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