Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)

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Re: Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)

#51 Post by hearthesilence » Wed May 12, 2021 1:09 am

I revisited Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point again - I hadn't seen Match Point since it came out, and to my surprise, I got a whole lot more out of it now. It seems richer and far more satisfying now than it did then, and I already thought it was a pretty decent film.

I revisited the 1940 and 1944 adaptations of Gaslight almost two weeks ago (and thanks swo for the Dickenson recommendations, will definitely check those out). Revisiting Allen's films brought that experience to mind. Rather than thinking of the latter film as a replacement or a rehash (or as one person implied a "repair") of the earlier film (or at least the story involving Landau), it really is two very worthy interpretations of the same or similar material. Like the Gaslight adaptations, you wouldn't be able to break down the films into their best elements and merely combine the two into a stronger work - a lot of what works in either film does so within that context, and there's no sense of redundancy thanks to what's different about both.

Crimes and Misdemeanors can feel like it's carried out better, mainly for the acting. After hearing that Lincoln Center podcast, I got the impression that Crimes and Misdemeanors may have benefitted from more seasoned actors. Landau et al seem much more comfortable and natural in their roles. The delivery of their lines is consistently impeccable, and it helps that Allen is more comfortable with American than British vernacular - I don't recall any moments where their performances seemed too awkward or lost, but there's a bit of that early on in Match Point. If the actors were really left to their own devices, it could be that Landau, Huston, etc. had an easier time filling out their performances from the tools developed from their additional experience.

But Match Point is also able to do a whole lot more with 2+ hours to work with and a script fully concentrated on one story. The biggest gain comes in the surrounding characters...
Partly due to its chosen format, Judah's story in Crimes and Misdemeanors starts immediately with the panic, the drama of needing a problem (or rather Dolores) to go away, and it more or less stays focused on Judah grappling with his moral failing. We get enough of his family and Dolores to get the stakes and the gravity of his crime, but Match Point has the space to develop its characters into something more. Match Point can feel like the colder film because it trades in Judah grappling with morality for an impulsive but calculating Chris who's much more ruthless, and unlike Judah, it's Chris who comes up with the plan without suggestion and carries it out himself. But the film feels much more brutal because other key elements have become much warmer and in some cases genuinely moving. With much more screen time available to them, Chris's in-laws can make a deeper impression than Judah's family and Chloe can be sympathetic in a way that Miriam couldn't. We have a better feeling for who else can be hurt by the affair, and we have a better sense of what Chris risks losing (i.e. what motivates his panic) because we see how he's gained it and how lucky he is to get it (more on that later).

The film's most substantial development comes in Nola. This time, Allen has the luxury of starting from the ground floor and building up their affair. It carries a greater weight because it makes the audience complicit with Chris's desire. (There's more distance in Crimes and Misdemeanors because right away the affair is presented as something that's run its course and needs to go away. That's not a knock on the film - it's simply a byproduct of concentrating on Judah's moral panic and struggle.)

Starting from the beginning also builds up Nola's character. What struck me as a powerful choice was cutting to the next scene immediately after Chris's friend, Henry, tells him "it sounds like you don't love her enough to give up any of those things." From there we go straight to Chris telling Nola he's leaving town (delivered in a way that suggests to the audience that it's a bullshit excuse). Seeing an anxious, insecure Nola in the immediate wake of Henry's words brings a massive amount of sympathy, and with her low feeling of self-worth already thoroughly and richly established, it's devastating that this is the judgment that's been passed on her - to put the worst spin on it, she's not worth it. She may not know it, but it's not a stretch to think that it's something that she fears for in the back of her mind. I'm tempted to say that line from Henry makes a world of a difference because from that point on, Nola's a complete mess, and had her behavior unfurled without that context, it might've been too much and potentially off-putting. But with probably her worst fear objectively confirmed, I was very sympathetic.

Match Point also breaks a lot of new ground for Allen, and I don't mean the change in scenery, though again, the translation to British vernacular can be a little off. (Perhaps @MichaelB can identify any other lapses beyond language?) The class explorations are much more compelling - nothing that's generally new, but it feels new for an Allen film, and it gives the story more weight to weave that into Chris and Nola's struggles. IIRC, Allen grew up working class and became wealthy, but unless he was using it for period color (especially in some comic depiction of an old world poverty), he rarely tapped into lower class struggles to the extent he did here. Chris mildly confesses that he grew accustomed to being rich, but really he HATES being poor, and one even gets the sense that being poor was thoroughly shameful for him. It creeps through when he's unable to pick up a check despite his insistence, and one gets the sense of the pride and self-worth he's desperate to hold on to.

Match Point also creates a more compelling dynamic, with two couples mirroring each other in a way that doesn't seem schematic. Crimes and Misdemeanors is so focused on one character, Dolores simply represents an outside world that Judah steps into before going back to the comfort of his own. But Chris and Nola are both outsiders to the Hewetts and the upper class world, and initially they're both on their way to marrying into it. Both of them have also chased lofty ambitions that are very glamorous - one in professional tennis, the other as an actress. This shores up a very strong connection between them, but it says something that Chris is more than willing to give up his talents to go into the corporate world while Nola is willing to struggle and risk humiliation rather than give up hers.

One of the most striking differences, as mentioned, is having Chris carry out the murder and having Judah order it. It feels implied that money (and a brother in organized crime) gives Judah the luxury of distance, but in Chris's case, it plays out where he has to do it. If Meyers has something over Landau's performance, it's the fact that his character can be given a scene that brutal - the physical and psychological experience of murdering someone. That sets up two different endings, first with Judah generally at peace with what he's done. There's some torment, but otherwise he goes on to live his life. He "prospers." But the last shot on Chris is ambiguous - he will probably live his life, but I get the feeling he'll be quietly tormented to the very end. He certainly doesn't seem like he's all that happy with the life ahead of him, even if he's made Chloe very happy. Having someone killed is bad enough, but one wonders if Chris's experience will make it too unescapable from his conscience.

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