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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006 01:21 pm

Selfish and self-deluded

Woody Allen's Match Point suggests that justice doesn't always prevail

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A modern crime thriller set in England, Woody Allen’s Match Point focuses on two outsiders who get a peek at the sort of upper-crust lifestyle they can never hope to possess and the effect it has on them. Chris Walton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis player who never made the big time but has rubbed shoulders with some of the sport’s greats. Having hung up his racket professionally, he now spends his time giving lessons at one of London’s posh country clubs. There he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who takes an immediate liking to him and introduces him to his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Though attracted to her, Chris has no great passion for the innocent young woman. He reserves that for Tom’s girlfriend, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a troubled American who’s obviously in over her head, not only with the gentry she finds herself among but in life as well. Although Chris has no problem ingratiating himself into the Hewetts’ inner circle — he marries Chloe and soon has a cushy job with his father-in-law (Brian Cox) — Nola is cast out and left wandering. Months pass, Chris stumbles upon her, and soon they are involved in a passionate affair that can only end badly. Allen is a student of film, and he follows the classic film noir conventions to a tee. Though Meyers and Johansson are a bit too young to snapping off the sort of hard-edged dialogue Allen gives them, they perfectly capture the desperation of their characters, people who will do anything to rise from the dreariness of their lives to attain something better. As with almost all of his movies, Allen has fashioned a taut, intelligent script that is an insightful examination of human behavior. The sort of justifications each of these characters use to excuse their actions ring true because they are based on the intention to survive at any cost. It is a nihilistic view; Allen seems to be saying that selfishness is sort of evil we all must contend with each day and that we are too flawed to conquer it consistently. Justice does not prevail here, and Allen goes to great lengths to point out that luck plays a key role in our lives, bringing some of us to a sort of ironic justice at times even as others get away with the worst of deeds. How this line of thinking applies to Allen’s own life, I’ll leave for you to decide.

Also in theaters this week. . .

Best of Youth (Part 1) [R] An epic that chronicles the life and times of two Italian brothers and the colorful characters they encounter during 40 years of their lives. Italian with English subtitles White Oaks

Curious George [PG] That mischievous little monkey instigates havoc wherever he goes, but the man with the yellow hat tries to keep his loveable pet from making a huge mess. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Final Destination 3 [R] A group of ordinary teenagers try to cheat death, again. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Firewall [PG-13] Caught between a rock and a hard place, a security executive for a bank has to make the choice between robbing the vault he’s supposed to be protecting and saving his kidnapped family by paying the hefty ransom. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
The Pink Panther [PG] This prequel to the original film finds Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) trying his best to solve the case of the missing Pink Panther diamond, but not having much luck. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
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