Match Point

Allen doesn't need Manhattan to be a great director.

"Luck, bad if not good, will always be with us. But it has a way of favoring the intelligent and showing its back to the stupid." John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct.

For the first time since Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), I can spy a theme in a Woody Allen film that unifies the work through social combat and thriller suspense. Match Point is a decidedly unfunny Woodman work, more a satire of Brits and Americans than even a discourse on the wages of sin. But overall, Allen emphasizes the randomness of the universe, a slick reprisal of his nihilistic notions that have always posited luck a bigger player in the universe than God.

Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) a tennis coach in London, hooks up with an exceedingly wealthy family, marries into it, and carries on a dangerous liaison with his brother-in-law's fianc?e, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an American actress and less-accomplished social climber than Chris. Like Allen himself, Chris is adept at crashing social barriers (Where more challenging can that be than in England?) and remaining on top through whatever means are available. That similarity is the best I can do for those who want to see another Woody clone as the lead (Will Farrell's bumbler in Melinda, Melinda comes immediately to mind) because Allen is determined in this film to prove his thesis about luck, to hell with older-guy neuroses and Annie Hall-like sweethearts.

As an Anglophile, I was delighted with cinematography that crisply makes love to London without overwhelming the audience (One shot reminds me I still have to ride the "Eye" and another, from the window of Chris's new digs on the Thames, reminds me how expensive yet stunning the right apartment can be in a great world city). The high artistry of lens shows Allen doesn't need Manhattan to be a great director.

Match Point will remind some of the tragic triangle in Dreiser's American Tragedy (more to the point, George Stevens's adaptation in film, A Place in the Sun). For those who think Mr. Rhys-Myers is the newest Jude Law, the character resembles Patricia Highsmith's Ripley, whom Law played in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Die-hard Woody fans will relish the tossed off references to Dostoyevsky and Strindberg, both of which have thematic relevance for the former's interest in punishment and the latter's attitude toward women. Beyond these signposts, Allen has hidden his persona in order to offer an entertaining lesson about the injustice of luck in a random universe.