Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer
(R, 124 min.)
"Heiresses are never jilted." George Meredith
Could be that Woody Allen is back in the game with Match Point, his film noir thriller set in posh London, where he cooks up a stew bubbling over with almost all the seven deadly sins. But don’t expect any predictable moralizing. This is, of course, Woody Allen.
Or at least that is what he doth protest, almost too much, I’m afraid, as he keeps hitting us over the head with his hard driven serve that luck and not meaning rules the universe. We see ample reinforcing images, such as a tennis ball balanced astride the net where it lingers precariously before Lady Luck decides which bloke to favor.
The bloke most favored by Lady Luck in Match Point is Irish tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who seems to understand well the caprice of fortune. He “knows when to hold ‘em, knows when to fold ‘em, when to walk away and when to run,” if I remember my Kenny Rogers right. Knowing he doesn’t have the ability or perhaps the drive and stamina to make it on the pro tennis tour, Chris leaves to coach at an elite London Club, where he soon becomes the new best friend of affable to the manor born Tom Hewett (Matthew Good). Learning that Chris shares his love of opera, Tom asks him to join his family at their private booth.
There he meets Tom’s nubile sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), who volunteers to show him the London art scene. Before long he is a regular at the Hewett manor -- an estate so lovely it has been termed real estate porn by one critic -- where he discusses Sophocles and Dostoevsky with Alec Hewett (Brian Cox), the genial patriarch. The match between Chloe and Chris is not so much a romance as an inevitability, a honey pot sweetened by offers of a comfy executive track position in one of Daddy’s firms.
But there is at least one crack in the veneer of the art loving, opera aficionado Chris. Very early in the film, we get a close up of Chris reading Crime and Punishment, then later the Cliff Notes to same. All this is before Chris has become acquainted with the Hewetts, but we wonder about his motives for reading this tome. As the Cliff notes suggest, this love of Dostoevsky seems more about presenting the right resume for his upward striving ambitions than any underlying love of literature. Perhaps as well with the art and opera?
Which brings us to the beautiful arias that predominate in the sound track. In a sense they give a certain tragic overtone to everything, foretelling broken hearts, undying love, hidden passions, and prolonged suffering. On the other hand, as in many operas, the beautiful music and flowery language often mask a superficial melodrama. In Match Point the heady pretensions of opera, manicured lawns, and leather bound libraries are undercut by a reality that is more an ode to comfort, complacency and the art of social climbing than anything else.
What threatens this status quo is the one area where Chris seems most authentic and not an edited package of himself -- his fatal attraction to Tom’s fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring American actress. She is the one thing that stands between him and a permanent supply of the best scotch in London as well as a luxury flat overlooking the Thames. Early on Nola even warns him off, saying a play for her would ruin both their chances of winning life’s lottery, but later on, when she has been dumped by Tom, she is less inclined to keep Chris at arm’s length.
Since the passion or shall we say downright lust between these two is the crux of the film, actually what threatens the happy kingdom of expansive green lawns, jaunts to the Greek Islands, and Mummy and Daddy’s overflowing bank accounts, the casting of Chris and Nola is paramount. Personally, I find Matthew Goode’s Tom Hewett, the affable Englishman whose natural charm is so potent one could get rich bottling it, the more attractive male. A certain beady-eyed calculation turned me away from Chris, but it does, after all, tell us who he really is. Scarlett Johansson is certainly tarted up for her run as Nola Rice, but it just doesn’t sell. The packaged sexuality, right down to her blond locks and throaty bon mots, is not rooted in any internal passion or earthiness. Like Bill Murray, with whom she played in the overrated Lost in Translation, Johansson is so low keyed and “natural” that it verges on deadpan.
Like all good Woody Allen’s films – many are saying this is the best of a dry decade – you will be entertained and teased to think about the meaning of life, although one might be bothered by a perverse form of moralizing that consists of a resolute denial of such, as well as a strident and not too convincing insistence on the meaninglessness of life, all tied up in a contrived package of coincidences guaranteed to prove the point. It’s almost like watching an engaging and fast-paced game of tennis and knowing in your heart of hearts, the match is rigged.
There are plenty of gin and tonics, champagne cocktails, scotch, and ale, but not a lot of eating in Match Point. Maybe that in itself is meaningful. Perhaps La Dolce Vita is a tad boring and the affluent Londoners need a cocktail or two to put a sparkle in their eyes. Are the uninterrupted benefits of the good life every bit as tiresome as the working bloke’s routine?
What to do? My culinary suggestion matches what is going one behind the scenes rather than at the dining table. Poacher’s Pie describes exactly what young Chris and Nola are up to. These two may be invited guests to the exquisite manor of Alec Hewett, but they are just as much the trespassing outsiders intent of taking what is not theirs as any wary poacher might be. If you have any doubts, take a good look at Chris’s eyes.
Rabbit recipes feature widely in the traditional cooking of the Eastern Counties because there used to be a large surplus of wild rabbits and hares, which were partially controlled by shooting for game. If wild rabbit is not available, use commercially produced meat, on sale in many supermarkets.
8 oz. Plain flour
2 oz. Butter
2 oz. Lard
3-4 Tablespoon Cold water
1 lb.Boneless rabbit, skinned and cubed
4 oz. Streaky bacon rashers, rinded and chopped - (translates as chopped fatty bacon)
2 Medium Potatoes, sliced
1 Medium Leek, sliced
1 Tablespoon Fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 Teaspoon Dried mixed herbs
1 Egg, beaten, to glaze
Pre-heat oven to 375 °F.
Put the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water and mix to form a firm dough.
Fill a 3 pint pie dish with alternate layers of rabbit, bacon and vegetables, sprinkling with the herbs. Half fill with stock.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to 2 inches wider than the top of the dish. Cut a 1 inch strip from the outer edge and line the dampened rim of the dish. Dampen the pastry rim and cover with the pastry lid. Trim and seal the edges. Make a hole in the centre to let the steam escape.
Decorate with pastry leaves and brush with egg. Bake for 30 minutes. Cover loosely with foil. Reduce to 350 °F for a further hour. Serve hot
Recipe Source: The Great British Kitchen