Monday, March 13, 2006

Neo-Noir Done Right

Woody Allen is finally back. In Match Point, his latest, which I finally saw at the State Theatre last night, he leaves behind his usual New York City locale for Merrie Olde England with results that are really quite smashing, old chap.

It's hardly a secret, even to his most die-hard fans, that Woody Allen has been on autopilot for many years. The neurotic New York shtick has gone from stale to actively rotting, his bumbling on-screen persona from tedious to downright irritating. It's his switch from the (overly) familiar that helps make Match Point seem much fresher.

But is it a new or original story? Not really. Thematically, it echoes an earlier Woody film, the underappreciated Crimes and Misdemeanors. Plotwise, it ironically (being set in London) owes a lot to Dreiser's An American Tragedy, by way of its best cinematic treatment, A Place in the Sun. Scarlett (Homer drooling noises)I won't go into the story, since you can get details by following any of these links and also because the less you know going in, the more you will likely enjoy it. It takes a while to unfold, and there are many intriguing twists and turns.

The movie's not without flaws (I suspect Brits in particular would pick up on various inaccuracies that are largely irrelevant to the American viewer) and plot holes (there's one gaping one that bugs me in particular that no one else seems to have paid much attention to). But this film, coupled with the promising (though ultimately only slightly above average) Melinda and Melinda, is enough to make me believe old Woody isn't done quite yet. Especially if he continues to wisely eschew the "comedy" that stopped being funny a long time ago.

Also, in fairness, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the mostly British cast were uniformly excellent.

And if my recommendation's not enough to convince you Match Point's worth watching, here are four words that might: Scarlett Johansson, wet blouse.