Match Point

After a middling career in pro tennis, Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, slinky and reserved) has found himself employed as a tennis pro at an English country club. It is there he meets Tom (Matthew Goode), a playboy who introduces Chris to his wealthy and influential family, including sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Looking for a bump in class, Chris marries Chloe, but Tom’s new fiancee, an American named Nola (Scarlett Johansson, in an ideal combo of sultry and disturbed), is what really sets his mind and loins wheeling. Instigating a rapturous affair with Nola, Chris embarks on a dangerous social journey that might threaten his perfect, respectable life.

Woody Allen has been in a rut as of late. Finding that his comic timing has lost its tick (“Hollywood Ending,” “Anything Else”), and his dramatic chops lacking urgency (“Melinda and Melinda”), “Match Point” finds the filmmaker at a creative dead end. So, I guess it’s time for a trip to England.

“Point” is one of the few Allen productions to be set outside of America (or New York City, to be more specific), and the change in scenery has really ignited the filmmaker’s cinematic tools. That’s not to say the picture strays far from Allen’s traditional visual and aural trimmings, but the jump across the pond has given Allen an opportunity to try examining new personalities, class systems, and locales. Thematically, “Point” has a lot in common with Allen’s 1989 masterpiece, “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which, to some fans, might reek of stealing from himself. I can’t defend Allen’s questionable inspiration for “Point,” but I do enjoy the filmmaker’s continuing study of morality, and what part that plays in passion and critical decision-making.

In keeping with the new surroundings, “Point” explores the English class system and how it’s the fuel that drives Chris’s ambitions. Starting out as a lowly tennis instructor (with a history of failure), Chris soon begins to taste the high life with his courtship of Chloe, gradually climbing the ladder of money and respectability that’s as potent and important to him as the sexual gratification he gets from Nola. Allen mines this material for everything it’s worth, selling Chris’s new life with gorgeous locations that take the viewer into impeccable London apartments and the rolling countryside of a holiday home (shot beautifully by Remi Adefarasin). He also adds an element that rarely rears its head in an Allen production: sexual heat. While far from explicit, the affair between Chris and Nola provides some sequences that are unusually frenzied, yet feel necessary to comprehend the carnal desire that keeps impeding Chris’s good sense.

In trying to keep in line with my critic code of ethics, I must stop here in describing Allen’s scripted twists and turns; the final act of the film is runaway mine car of surprises, and keeps closely in line with the heavy opera backdrop of the story. “Match Point” provides just enough reason to fall in love with Woody Allen again, with the auteur creating cracking good drama for the first time in a very long time, in a location that will hopefully relight the creative fires in him for years to come.

Rating: B+