A young man from Ireland, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), newly retired from the professional tennis tour, is hired as the pro at a posh London club. Soon he meets young Tom Hewett, the heir to a fortune who is currently engaged to Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), an American actress looking for work in London. Tom has an eligible sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and when Chris and Chloe get together her father (Brian Cox) invites Chris to join, as he puts it, "one of the family companies."
This is how we meet the figures in Woody Allen's new landscape of love, lust and luck. To set your mind at ease, the film is not a comedy. It has elements of Dreiser's "American Tragedy," of "Crime and Punishment," and of Allen's own "Crimes and Misdemeanors." It would even be possible to see Patricia Highsmith's Ripley as well. But the film is also a strange kind of classic noir, in which luck plays a role more important even than love or lust; it is a story in which a man's actions have consequences unexpected even by himself.
Chris has ambitions, but they are the kind that any young man has; to make a living, to make a marriage, to make a decent life for himself. He is not, at first, in any way duplicitous about any of this. But when he meets Nola at the Hewetts' country estate his lust overtakes him and he begins an affair with her.
I won't say any more about the plot of "Match Point," because Allen has invented just enough turns in his story to take us a variety of unexpected places, and part of our fascination with this film is to watch how well he's constructed it. He has also gotten pitch-perfect performances from his actors, fortunately none of whom resemble his own screen persona. They slip into their characters, each with his or her own needs and desires, sometimes in harmony with another, sometimes not. Rhys-Meyers, whom you may remember as George in the 2004 "Vanity Fair," or as Cassander in "Alexander," has a compelling voice set in a weak and unmemorable face that lends believability to his character on screen. We trust him because he is so unthreatening. But he is animal-like in his pursuit of Nola; she in turn is less than thrilled with him. And Emily Mortimer, as Chloe, who might in a lesser film come off as the Shelley Winters character in "A Place in the Sun," has some interesting strengths of her own.
The film never seems hurried, and shows us its hand at every turn of events; but as it marches along to its climax it sweeps us up in its momentum until we can barely guess what will happen. Let me only repeat that one must never overlook the importance of luck in one's life. Over a career of forty years Woody Allen has made almost that many films, both comedies and dramas. This is his smoothest, most perfect drama of all.