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Illicit Love Affair Turns Deadly in Woody Allen Film, <i>Match Point</i>


A gorgeous 'femme fatale,' an unscrupulous social climber and an illicit love affair that proves deadly: those are the ingredients in a romantic mystery written and directed by Woody Allen. Alan Silverman has a look at Match Point.

'Ambitious' describes Chris Wilton, former tennis pro who gave up his mediocre competitive career for a cushy job at a London country club. On a weekend at the country estate of a wealthy club member he first sees Nola Rice, a breathtakingly beautiful American struggling to launch her career as an actress. When they meet, she has been defeating all opponents at the ping-pong table.

The attraction is instantaneous and (he believes) mutual; but Chris soon learns that Nola is engaged to marry his host. As luck would have it, the working class tennis instructor is welcomed into the upper crust family. He marries the trusting daughter and gets a high-paying job in the father's company; but when he lets his forbidden passion for Nola overwhelm his better judgment, Chris's luck may run out.

The picture is about lust and passion and jealousy and murder and betrayal; but what I see it is about is the importance that luck plays in life," explains director Woody Allen.

Allen wrote and directed (but does not appear in) Match Point, which he says is about how we are all fortune's fools.

"Life is so chaotic and terrifying and we all like to think that we have so much control of our own lives and our destinies ... and if we work really hard we're going to succeed," he says. "You always hear people say 'luck is nonsense; I make my own luck by hard work.' Yes, hard work is important, but they are afraid to admit how contingent they are on chance and luck."

Irish-born Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Chris opposite American actress Scarlett Johansson as Nola. Some of their scenes are drenched in film noir dialogue, which even Johansson admits could have come out cheesy or cheap sounding. For instance, there's the steamy first encounter between the characters.

"I think it was a very flirtatious scene and also having Jonathan to act opposite, who is such a very talented actor, removes all the 'cheese factor' that might be possible," says Johansson. "He also had some pretty heavy pickup lines, but for some reason in the context of the scene played out quite well because it's sexy. It was a little corny, but still I think they weren't serious lines. Nobody says 'who is my next victim?' without a bit of facetiousness to it."

Rhys-Meyers says his challenge had less to do with the dialogue than it did with learning to work with writer-director Allen's unique style.

"The first morning on set I came up to Woody and said 'I'm a nervous wreck,'" admits the actor. "He said 'I don't know why you're nervous. You are 80 percent of the character when you wake up in the morning. You just have to bring 20 percent to work and fill in the dots.' So when your director tells you that and you are playing the lead role in his film ... well, you kind of deserve to be there because you're the type of actor that he doesn't have to spend three hours a day talking through a scene; and the fact that he's trusting you [means] you really feel of worth and you do your best work. You elevate yourself to the man who is directing you."

The films of Woody Allen usually play out in his native New York City, so Match Point with its London settings put the director on unfamiliar territory. That gives the film a refreshing perspective, according to co-star Emily Mortimer, who plays the unsuspecting wife of unfaithful Chris.

"I think there something really interesting that happens when a foreign director like Woody Allen comes in and makes a film about English manners and particularly the English class system," she says. "We are very neurotic about class. We find very hard to be objective about it because we've lived with it for so long. We're sort of twisted up about the whole thing, so when English directors try to make films about posh people they are very often quite judgmental."

The cast of Match Point also features Matthew Goode, Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton. Woody Allen describes the film romance as operatic and so he layers the soundtrack with arias and classic opera performances.