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“Match Point’ plays a dark, twisted game

Woody Allen’s latest film is a thriller, but still teases with morals and meaning

Match Point” pushes.

It begins with a tennis net. The ball goes over and back and over again. Then, it hits ” just the tip ” and freezes, midair, above the net.

The game of tennis, the narrator tells us, is a metaphor for life. “For a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win… or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.”

The obviousness of this metaphor is annoying ” until director Woody Allen plays it. With 20 minutes left in the film, the metaphor still hangs in the air above the net. (See how easy it is? I just made a metaphor about a metaphor.) But with a repeated image and a wink, Allen proves he can volley.

The film is a departure for Allen, as critics love to point out. It’s set in London and it’s practically a thriller.

A now-retired tennis pro, Chris Wilson (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has very good luck. He teaches lessons to and then befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who has a country home, loads of money and a nice-enough sister.

Soon Chris marries the sister. But he risks the money and the job he married into by having an affair with Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a drunk, struggling actress from the United States. Events unfold, Nola threatens to tell, and very, very slowly, tension builds.

Allen makes his references, his images, his allusions to other works about affairs, immorality, free will. A character reads Fyodor Dostoevsky. Then another character mentions that the other reads Dostoevsky. Then the film’s theme slowly begins to mirror Dostoevsky’s. We get it, right?

But Allen is not making these references to show off the latest book he’s read. He twists each. For his crime, Chris receives a different sort of punishment. So what could be hoity-toity is instead almost playful.

The film’s dark themes are often its only motion. Allen’s work with each moves the film forward and adds suspense without actually grabbing a gun in ” until the final act.

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