Love me not

Woody Allen takes a dark look at forbidden love

BED-SIDE MANNER <br>Scarlett Johansson and and Jonathan Rhys Meyers ponder the meaning of life in Woody Allen’s <i>Match Point</i>.

Scarlett Johansson and and Jonathan Rhys Meyers ponder the meaning of life in Woody Allen’s Match Point.

Match Point
Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer and Brian Cox. Directed by Woody Allen. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Chris Wilton is an Irish-born tennis pro, recently retired from the tour and now trying to get established as a tennis coach at a posh London club. Nola Rice is an American expatriate trying to get established as an actress in a newly adapted British setting. These two handsome young people meet in patently provocative fashion over a game of pingpong in the lavish digs of the well-to-do Hewett family, and are immediately and problematically attracted to each other.

The attraction is a problem because both are already engaged to children of the lordly, doting Hewetts—Chris to starstruck daughter Chloe and Nola to amiably swaggering son Tom. One of those couples will part company almost as soon as the other takes its wedding vows, but in the meantime Chris and Nola plunge into a love affair that is dangerously, and apparently irresistibly, at odds with their careers and nearly everything else of any urgency in their ongoing lives apart from each other.

The unhappy, fascinatingly intricate course of this plainly ill-starred romance is at the heart of Match Point, which is written and directed in striking and skillful fashion by Woody Allen. But this fine new Allen film (in his darkly dramatic Crimes and Misdemeanors mode, but minus Woody the actor) is not simply a tragic love story. With special help from an excellent cast and a music score drawn from eight classic operas, Allen the auteur makes the thing into a resonant drama of doom in an upscale modern setting.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson are pungently quirky and very effective in the lead roles. The key supporting players—Matthew Goode as Tom, Emily Mortimer as Chloe, Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton as their parents—give beguiling form to the complacent generosities and ironic indulgences of the Hewetts. Ewen Bremner and James Nesbitt have sharp cameos as the police inspectors involved in the final dark twists of the plot.

With its allusions to Sophocles, Strindberg and Dostoevsky, the script pushes its theme of fateful luck a little too blatantly. But the film as a whole plays, implicitly but quite effectively, as a latter-day variation on novels by Theodore Dreiser and Henry James. That, too, is ultimately to its credit.