If we're going to get reductive—and, let's face it, of course we are—it could be argued that Woody Allen has been making and remaking the same three films once a year for the last 30 years or so: the light, goofball period piece (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Sweet and Lowdown, etc.), the thoughtful relationship comedy (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, etc.), and the occasional, oft-maligned Bergman-esque drama (Interiors, September, etc.). In his endlessly refined, sometimes painfully constrained (New York, always New York) universe, those of us who are still somehow devoted to Allen's admirably self-contained aesthetic find our solace in the subtle variations: a new locale, a new potential muse, a new actor doing another stumbling Allen impression. We've come to take each harsh critical assessment in stride—sure, we've accepted that he's probably never going to make another masterpiece, but even that Jason Biggs movie wasn't that bad. So imagine my surprise when, seemingly out of nowhere, ol' Woods drops Match Point: a triumph removed almost entirely from the common trappings of a typical Woody Allen film.
In his first straight-ahead drama in quite some time (and arguably his best), Match Point finds Allen traversing the previously uncharted waters of modern Britain. He's also dropped most of his patented, Bergman-esque pretenses in favor of an admirable stab at Hitchcock—and a healthy, if unexpected, dollop of Dostoyevsky. Starring Jonathan Rhys Myers as a social-climbing former tennis pro, the film follows his ascent into the ranks of British aristocracy as he courts and eventually marries the daughter (Emily Mortimer) of a wealthy businessman. Along the way he begins a passionate affair with an unstable, equally calculating American actress (Scarlett Johansson, already pegged as the latest Woody muse) who ultimately threatens his newfound, elaborately won empire. With the match set, what unfurls is a taut, cynical, and satisfyingly unpredictable thriller that's worth a healthy 75 percent of the ridiculous amount of hype that already precedes it. More importantly, Match Point is easily Allen's best film in over a decade.