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MATCH POINT

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY WOODY ALLEN


By DIANE BARONI
Executive Editor, Moviecrazed

Was it shooting in London instead of Manhattan that did it? Or maybe it was having Brit actors on board, or just being around Scarlett Johansson, who could wake anybody up. Who knows? Who cares? The big thing is, Woody Allen is back to where he once belonged. Dark, stylish, wildly erotic, "Match Point" is his best movie in decades.

It is a film about seduction, social climbing, passion, lust, luck. Irish-born Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a former tennis pro turned coach at a fancy London club, and Nola Rice (Johansson), a struggling American actress, meet at the posh country house belonging to the family of Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). Nola is Tom’s fiancée, which does not exactly fill his snooty, gin-and-tonic guzzling mummy (Penelope Wilton) with joy, and Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) already has her eye on Chris, but no matter. The next thing we know, Nola and Chris are having steamy sex in the grass, getting drenched with rain in the process.

But Chris is too hungry for money, power and prestige not to respond to Chloe’s relentlessly amorous overtures—she’s the perfect conduit to the privileged world he craves. He marries her and is offered a perk-filled job by her affable tycoon father (Brian Cox), who buys the newlyweds a state-of-the-art duplex on the Thames. But despite all the luxe trappings, Chris is still obsessed by Nola, and when Tom dumps her, he moves in fast.

The casting of Johansson, with her throaty voice, incredible lips and soft, sensuous body, and Rhys Meyers, intense, alternately ingratiating and wary, is genius. Whenever these two go at each other, or even look at each other, their chemistry is so potent you can almost taste desire.

For a while, Chris has his cushy lifestyle and hot sex too—he’s a natural-born liar who uses his considerable charm to deceive both his wife and his girlfriend. Increasingly bored and irritated by Chloe, who never stops talking and whose obsession with having a baby has turned him into an in-house stud service, he toys with the idea of leaving her for Nola. But then Nola gets pregnant and starts calling Chris constantly on his cell, threatening him, demanding that he divorce Chloe and marry her, and he knows he has to do something right away.

What he does is meticulously plot a murder (two if you count the hapless old soul who lives downstairs) so amoral and horrific that at first you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. You can’t quite believe you’re hoping he’ll get away with it either, which is a testament to Woody Allen’s ability to take age-old subjects like adultery, greed and obsession and make them rich and shocking.