Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spoilerific Sat. - Game, Set, and Match Point

It's not often that I feel compelled to write a full post on a movie, especially on the weekend, but every once in a while a film will effect me in a way that can't be adequately covered without going into greater detail about the details of the plot; Match Point is such a film. I'm still torn on exactly how I feel about it; lots of talented actors, but the main characters were so thoroughly irredeemable that it was often hard for me to enjoy them. And then there's the big shift in tone towards the end which totally changed the way I viewed the film, especially after I realized just how skillfully I had been manipulated. I don't know if I could recommend this as a "good" film per se, but it's definitely one that made me think; do with that what you will.

Going in, I had next to no idea what this film was about; I knew it was a Woody Allen film, I knew it was a primarily British cast, and I knew it featured Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a tennis pro who falls for Scarlett Johansson. For some reason, I thought it was a romantic comedy; I couldn't have been further from the truth.

In the early parts of the film, as I watched Jonathan Rhys-Meyers playing a nice, likeable character, I thought to myself that he has sure come a long way from the roles that first introduced him to me: the conniving, murderous Steerpike in the excellent Gormenghast mini-series and the conniving murderous rapist Chiron in the bizarre adaptation of the bizarre Shakespeare play Titus. Sure, he's popped up in likeable roles since then (most notably in Bend It Like Beckham), but I still tend to think of him as a darker character. And then, by the films second act I could see the darkness creeping out of him, as his character's desire for his future brother-in-law’s fiancĂ© leads first to a brief act of betrayal, and later to an all-out affair between the two. As the affair grew more serious, and Rhys-Meyers' character began to lie to both his wife and his mistress, I found myself loathing him, a loathing that increased when he basically confesses to a friend that the only reason he's staying with his wife is because he's become accustomed to the posh lifestyle her family's wealth has provided him, and then even more so after he repeatedly tried to browbeat Scarlett Johansson into an abortion. As he avoided making any real decisions and she become more emotional and irrational, my distaste for both characters made me decide that the film was a waste of my time. But then something very interesting happened: Rhys-Meyers character snuck a shotgun out of his in-laws' house.

My first thought was that he was going to kill Scarlett Johansson to keep her from telling his wife about the affair; my second thought was that that was ridiculous, there was no way the film would go that direction; my third thought was that there was no better explanation. And just like that, the movie had sucked me back in again.

As skeptical as I was of the purpose of the shotgun when he first swiped it, I became even more confused when he smooth talked his way into Scarlett's neighbor's apartment and began reassembling the shotgun while she was in the other room. As he marched towards the elderly lady, leveled the shotgun and fired away, I knew that the film had turned a dark corner that changed the whole dynamic of the picture. So I sat there, mesmerized, as he ransacked the woman's apartment to make it look like a robbery, narrowly avoided detection from another neighbor, and then moved into hiding to await Scarlett's arrival; although it seemed inevitable at this point, there was a part of me that was still surprised when he actually pulled the trigger on her.

And then, as he made his escape and enacted his plan to come up with an alibi and cover his tracks, I realized something bizarre: I was actually rooting for him to succeed! Well, maybe not precisely rooting for him, but every time he came close to being discovered I would feel a knot form in my stomach and would start hoping that somehow he would be able to turn the situation around. This realization was the impetus for this post, because it made me cognizant of just how well Allen had manipulated me: I'd gone from liking this character to utterly loathing him to secretly cheering him on in his misdeeds, all in the span of almost 2 hours. In a way I could almost look at it like The Sopranos or The Shield, where you have these anti-heroes to cheer for, but there's a critical difference: on both of those shows the characters are charming, smart, funny, likeable, etc., everything that Rhys-Meyers' character was not during the second act of the film. There's absolutely no good reason why even a small part of me should have been hoping for him to get away with such a cold-hearted and calculating scheme, and yet there I was all the same, wishing fervently that he would hurry up and stash the evidence before his wife entered the room. How the heck did that happen?

Honestly, at this point I couldn't tell you; even after I was aware of the shift in my reactions to his character, I couldn't quite shake it. The rest of the film was me struggling with the dichotomy in my head, half of my appalled at the prospect of his escaping unscathed from his evil deeds, and the other half relieved at his constant escapes.

In the end, I think I would be much more willing to give this film a positive review if it had had better dialogue; as it is, the dialogue was all too often clunky and stilted, with the worst cases coming in Scarlett Johansson's lines. Whether a different actress could have delivered her lines more effectively or not, I can't say; she may have just been a victim of being the sole American in a sea of melodious British accents. Regardless, there were several exchanges that just made me cringe at how artificial they sounded.

To sum up: I don't know if I can say I enjoyed the film as such, but I definitely can respect the craftsmanship involved in the storytelling.


Anne said...

I have been wanting to see that movie...I was supposed to go see it at the Angelika when it was in the I am intrigued..

btw- nice to see someone from Denton..I live in Lewisville...but I spend a lot of time in Denton. Most of it at Mr. Chopstix. :)