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dir-scr Woody Allen|
with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton, Margaret Tyzack, Rupert Penry-Jones, James Nesbitt, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Rose Keegan
release US 28.Dec.05, UK 6.Jan.06
05/UK BBC Films 2h04
Work on your stroke: Rhys Meyers and Johansson
Another change of genre for Allen (film noir), this is also his first film set entirely outside New York, and perhaps his first to break the two-hour mark. And it feels it. Even though it's a gripping, fascinating story.
Chris Wilton (Rhys Meyers) is a tennis pro at a London club, who's invited to the opera by one of his posh clients, the young Tom Hewett (Goode). Soon Chris starts dating Tom's sister Chloe (Mortimer). But he's also secretly in love with Tom's American fiance Nola (Johansson), and as time passes he has trouble making up his mind about what he wants. Bad decisions lie ahead, as do birth, death, suspicion and guilt.
"I'd rather be lucky than good." This is the phrase that echoes in Chris' head both on and off the tennis court. And Allen insidiously examines the idea from all sides using fascinating characters who seem to exist in a parallel universe, namely upper class Britain. This is a realistic view of these jolly snobs, although it seems corny because people can't really be this privileged and oblivious, can they?
Allen lets them circle around each other with a seeming banality, while something truly creepy gurgles under the surface. When he avoids moralising, it's powerful stuff, but then he adds a couple of unnecessary scenes near the end that make it drag badly and undermine his premise with arch references (Sophocles?) and some contrived events. Even as he layers in a clever sense of irony, he muddles the film with a cheesy police investigation that forces an unneeded and extended closure on the events.
Performances are very strong. Rhys Meyers is good as a man who makes a few very bad choices, although he doesn't add the extra depth that would make Chris' moral dilemma truly resonate. Johansson and Mortimer are excellent, delivering riveting, astonishingly naturalistic performances as two very different women who are sure of what they want. Along with the terrific supporting cast, Allen's human drama comes sharply to life, and if you can get past the film's few potholes, it has the power to really make you squirm.
Stephanie, Surrey: "Oh dear, I really hated this film. I found the whole denouement extremely implausible, and the dialogue stilted and contrived - who talks like that? But for me the fatal flaws were around the central character - who cares about his terrible dilemma when it arises entirely from his own greed, selfishness and readiness to exploit the trust of those who love him? A truly superb actor might have made this moral vacuum likeable enough to engage with, but Jonathan Rhys Meyers was far from up to the job, and came across as wooden and one-dimensional. My popcorn had greater entertainment value." (12.Jan.06)
Adelle Merton, USA: "I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie. I found Jonathan Rhys Meyers convincing as the chilling slime bucket. His character reminded me a tad bit of Thomas Ripley, in the sense that he has all this pretence going on -- & lies. Plenty of Lies. Go and see it - you will enjoy it." (16.Mar.06)
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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