Match Point (2005)
I remember very well how Match Point was considered Woody’s comeback film after a terribly painful (for many of his diehard fans) creatively uninspired decade (I call them Woody’s dreck years) for a director who had consistently — with each eagerly-awaited annual fall project — proven himself as one of the greats coming out of the ‘70’s Hollywood auteur talent pool, right up there with the Coppolas, the Scorseses, the Friedkins. Regarding the dreck years, it seemed soon after the Mia/Soon Yi revelations and controversies, it was as if he lost inspiration for awhile, but – perhaps unfortunately — not the obsessive need to do a film a year. Then again, maybe that film a year schedule is what got him through it all… and ultimately back on the right track, because — while Match Point is good, yet overrated – it turns out to be the beginning upswing film in this good European phase that is still thankfully continuing (so nice to have him back!).
On first viewing (as I was still seeing each Woody film on opening day in the theater, no matter how much of a struggle it had been over those dreck years), I wasn’t nearly as enamored as so many others at the time, recognizing Match Point for what it was — basically Crimes and Misdemeanors lite (which, as a friend pointed out to me is somewhat ironic in that they show the brutal murder that each plot hinges on in Match Point, but not in Crimes and Misdemeanors). Revisiting it, though, I have considerably warmed to the film and, though it doesn’t reach the heights of Crimes – with Crimes being definitively in at least the top three of his greatest work, arguably even the top one, so those heights are pretty high — it does create its own world and have its own things to say.
There are some things in Match Point that don’t quite work — the murder scene itself comes immediately to mind, as well as the terribly set-up crime scene moment right after the murder that felt like some old filmmakers trying to ape what they’ve seen a million times on those telly programs. I also found there was some real awkwardness in the sex scenes, in both their execution and from the performers (not surprising, considering Woody’s not the filmmaker who usually does traditional, ‘hot’ sex scenes), but perhaps these are quibbles (well, not the murder scene one).
The ending of Crimes revealed perhaps (up to now) the ultimate culmination of Woody’s nihilistic perspective of learning to survive without guilt in an amoral universe (a perspective that, not surprisingly, if lived out could give one a lot of leeway in doing naughty things… like, for instance, say, Woody’s seemingly ethically challenged actions in the Soon Yi saga)… but, with Match Point, Woody provides a different – though still really dark – conclusion. While I prefer the more challenging and bleak conclusion of Crimes, it was still interesting to see Woody try a different perspective on the tale… that also allowed for a nice, well constructed twist at the end.
The way Woody plays out the theme of the random chance of existence in Match Point is quite beautifully done, both cinematically (in tying the visual cues at the ending directly back to the opening image of the film) and with how well it works within the framework of a noir film, as Match Point is as close as Woody’s gotten to making one so far.