As regular readers of Thoughtcat (which I imagine you probably aren’t) will know, I rarely manage to discover something for myself less than about two years after everyone else has written the bible on it. In keeping with this, despite being intrigued by your movie Match Point from the time it came out two years ago (mostly because it was the first film you’d shot in London, my home city), I’ve only just managed to rent the DVD.
I’m very sorry to tell you that, far from being worth the wait, Match Point is pretty much the worst film I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something, since I’ve seen Meet Joe Black. Match Point was the only Woody Allen film, and one of the very few films full stop, that I’ve felt had robbed me of two hours of my life. Here is a selection of my disappointments.
Firstly, London. You may as well have shot the film on the moon for all the use you made of this great and varied city. The Houses of Parliament and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace are very nice, but you could hardly have picked more unimaginative, picture-postcard views of the place. The Saatchi Gallery was about as edgy as you got – and that’s just a bunch of pretentious, overrated arse of the sort that you used to debunk so hilariously in films like Manhattan. Even if you’d walked a few hundred yards to the South Bank Centre you would’ve found something more interesting, genuine and vital than any of that.
Secondly, the characters – the supposed tennis pro, directionless after retiring at the age of about 12; his boring pupil, dabbling in a sport about which he clearly gives not a shit in between earning a stupendous amount of money in some high-flying job about which we know nothing and knobbing a beautiful but hopeless actress; his sister, the pretty-but-dull filly, perfect wife material and a bit of posh totty to boot; the rich father-in-law with the Country House (someone actually says ‘come and stay in my Country House’ at one point, but we’ll get on to the excruciating dialogue in a moment) and the basement full of hunting rifles… these were either cyphers, insufferable idiots or English stereotypes unrecognisable from (modern) life. Some were all three. Woody, you’re a massively creative person – a writer, director, actor, musician, a career artist. What could possibly attract you to these antiseptic ‘people’ with not an original thought between them? And how many ‘Brits’ have you ever actually met? No wonder Kate Winslet pulled out of the film at the last minute. Johansson’s character only had any depth because she was American. Moral – one of the first things they tell you about writing: stick with what you know.
Thirdly, the acting. This was mostly terrible, due in large part to the characterisation. Talents like Johansson (the only really watchable figure in the movie, and then mostly for the wrong reasons) and Brian Cox were left flailing around, desperate to find something realistic to say or do, or at least say and do what the script demanded without looking utterly crap about it. I suppose Jonathan Rhys Meyers did have a fleeting moment of thespian credibility near the end, falling apart in the back of a cab, but that was only after he’d gone completely out of character and shot a couple of people, which might conceivably have that kind of effect. Apart from that he was practically unwatchable, and certainly unlistenable. I don’t know if that was his normal accent or if he put it on for the film, but two hours of it made my ears bleed.
Fourthly, the dialogue. One of the reasons Rhys Meyers finally managed to look halfway decent in the scene I just mentioned is that he didn’t have any lines in it. I mean, Jesus, don’t get me started on the script. I could have done better with one wordprocessor tied behind my back. Much of it sounded like a bad parody of a Noel Coward play (‘Darling, have you seen my Strindberg?’); a scene involving two policemen discussing the murders was the most unlikely ever written (‘I’m torn,’ says James Nesbitt, without feeling, to his sidekick Ewen Bremner, another couple of excellent actors woefully underused here); and people simply don’t say things to each other like ‘You do realise we haven’t made love for a week?’ and ‘I have to meet my wife at the Tate Modern in ten minutes.’ You’re telling me you’re a 70-year-old auteur, with such classics as Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose and Hannah and Her Sisters behind you, and those lines were the best you could muster? It all just sounded at best like a first draft you’d scribbled down over the course of a few evenings with one eye on the telly, and at worst like you simply don’t have a clue how to convey story without getting the characters to say things they’d never say in real life.
Fifthly, said ‘story’. I sat there for almost the whole film waiting for something to happen and when it finally did, it was so far-fetched I couldn’t believe it. We are supposed to believe that Rhys Meyers’s dull, anonymous tennis pro-turned-I’m-not-quite-sure-what-he-does-in-his-father-in-law’s-firm is so pissed off that his beautiful mistress has got herself knocked up that he borrows said father-in-law’s rifle and shoots her? (This is a man with access to pots of money – couldn’t he have just paid her to go away quietly somewhere?) And then, to insult us further, he gets away with it? And then, to completely take the piss, he claims some kind of philosophical disaffection with life because he’s got away with it, citing Sophocles and Dostoevsky? Those guys must be turning in their graves. It might not have been so bad if you’d made Rhys Meyers’s character even slightly sympathetic, or at least interesting, but he was neither. You can quote the greats all night, but it makes no difference if I couldn’t give a damn what happens to the protagonist.
Finally, the ‘message’. This was a film about a man literally getting away with murder. Astonished at how poor this film was coming from a film-maker as great as yourself, I could only charitably assume that you deliberately set out to make a terrible movie to demonstrate exactly that – that Woody Allen got away with murder on a whole other level, by taking someone’s millions and going through the whole palaver of writing, casting, directing, editing, distributing and, finally, charging people to watch a piece of utter tosh.
In writing this for public consumption I did try not to give away too much of the plot in case any readers still hadn’t seen the film; as a personal standard, I always recommend people make up their own minds about something rather than take someone else’s word for it. But such is the crassness of Match Point, I feel it would be a dereliction of whatever duty a blogger has not to discourage anyone who may be reading this from wasting two hours of their life watching this film. Really, I beg you, dear reader – find some long-overlooked corner of the house and clean it with a toothbrush instead, as that would be both a more enjoyable and more constructive way of spending an evening.
Unbelievably, Woody, this was your first movie since Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) to make a profit in your home country. If this is what you have to do to make money then I beg you, go back to making a loss – that’s what you’re good at. I won’t make any cheap jibes about how that statistic illustrates the cultural and geographical bankruptcy of American audiences, but I will close by saying this: although it’
s long been the case that your films fare better in Europe than the US, if the UK-set Match Point was the best thing you could come up with to honour the loyalty and enthusiasm of audiences on this side of the pond, then can I please request that you stay at home next time?
Lots of love,