Mind-blowing psycho-thriller | Sunday Observer
Match Point

Mind-blowing psycho-thriller

10 January, 2021

Match Point is a 2005 psychological thriller written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, and Penelope Wilton.

In the film, Rhys Meyers’ character marries into a wealthy family, but his social position is threatened by his affair with his brother-in-law’s girlfriend, played by Johansson.

The film deals with themes of morality, greed, and the roles of lust, money, and luck in life, leading many to compare it to Allen’s earlier film Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

It was produced and filmed in London after Allen had difficulty finding financial support for the film in New York. The agreement obliged him to make it there using a cast and crew mostly from the United Kingdom. Allen quickly re-wrote the script, which was originally set in New York, for a British setting.

Critics in the United States praised the film and its British setting, and welcomed it as a return to form for Allen. In contrast, reviewers from the United Kingdom treated Match Point less favourably, finding fault with the locations and especially the British idiom in the dialogues. Allen was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.


The film’s opening voiceover from Wilton introduces its themes of chance and fate, which he characterizes as simple luck, to him all-important. The sequence establishes the protagonist as an introvert, a man who mediates his experience of the world through deliberation, and positions the film’s subjective perspective through his narrative eyes. Charalampos Goyios argued that this hero, as an opera lover, maintains a sense of distance from the outer world and that ramifications therein pale in comparison to the purity of interior experience.

The film is a debate with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which Wilton is seen reading early on, identifying him with the anti-hero Raskolnikov. That character is a brooding loner who kills two women to prove that he is a superior being, but is racked by guilt and is finally redeemed by confession of his crime, the love of a young woman forced into prostitution, and the discovery of God.

Wilton is a brooding loner who kills a poor girl who loves him because he considers his interests superior to those around him, feels little guilt, and avoids detection through luck. Allen signals his intentions with more superficial similarities: both are almost caught by a painter’s unexpected appearance in the stairwell, and both sleuths play cat and mouse with the suspect. Allen argues, unlike Dostoevsky, that there is neither God, nor punishment, nor love to provide redemption.

The theme of parody and reversal of Dostoevsky’s motifs and subject matter has been visited by Allen before, in his film Love and Death. In Love and Death, the dialogue and scenarios parody Russian novels, particularly those by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, The Idiot, and War and Peace. In Match Point, Allen moves the theme from parody to the more direct engagement of Dostoevsky’s motifs and narratives.


Allen revisits some of the themes he had explored in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), such as the existence of justice in the universe. Both films feature a murder of an unwanted mistress, and “offer a depressing view on fate, fidelity, and the nature of man”.

That film’s protagonist, Judah Rosenthal, is an affluent member of the upper-middle class having an extramarital affair. After he tries to break the affair off, his mistress blackmails him and threatens to go to his wife.

Soon, Rosenthal decides to murder his mistress, but is racked with guilt over violating his moral code. Eventually, he learns to ignore his guilt and go on as though nothing has happened. Philip French compared the two films’ plots and themes in The Observer, and characterized Match Point as a “clever twist on the themes of chance and fate”.

Money is an important motivator for the characters: both Wilton and Nola come from modest backgrounds and wish to enter the Hewett family using their sex appeal. That family’s secure position is demonstrated by their large country estate, and, early on in their relationships, both prospective spouses are supported by Mr. Hewett, Wilton with a position on “one of his companies” and Nola reports being “swept off her feet” by Hewett’s attention and presents.

Roger Ebert posed the film’s underlying question as “To what degree are we prepared to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness? Wilton is facing a choice between greed and lust, but his sweet wife, Chloe, herself has no qualms about having her father essentially ‘buy’ her husband for her.”

Jean-Baptiste Morain, writing in Les Inrockuptibles, noticed how the strong do not accept their own weakness and have no qualms about perpetuating an injustice to defend their interests. This wider political sense is, he argued, accentuated by its English setting, where class differences are more marked than in the USA. The film pits passion and the dream of happiness against ambition and arrivisme, resolving the dispute with a pitiless blow that disallows all chance of justice.