National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY John Lilly

STEVEN D. GREYDANUS

April 23-29, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/24/06 at 11:00 AM

 

Match Point: PASS

(2005)

Little Manhattan: PASS

(2005)

The Patriot: PICK

(2000)

Content advisory:

Match Point: Much sexual immorality (no explicit nudity); practical discussion of abortion; profanity and crass language; non-explicit murderous violence. Little Manhattan: A divorce in progress; minor profanity and rude language; brief gross-out humor; much karate training and brief violence against a bully; pervasive preadolescent romantic themes. The Patriot: Bloody battlefield violence and gore; slaughter of non-combatants; a few strong expressions.

Match Point has been hailed as a return to form for Woody Allen, harkening to the director’s 1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors, which treats similar themes of infidelity, murder and ultimate meaning. Unfortunately, Match Point lacks the earlier film’s sense of conflicted existential drama. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, when Martin Landau wrestled with the enormity of his situation, he did just that: wrestle. In Match Point, protagonist Jonathan Rhys-Meyers takes his self-serving approach to life for granted, without a flicker of conscience or moral awareness. He never looks deep within himself, nor does Allen. He’s a cipher, a pretty poster boy for doing what you can get away with.

Late in the film, Allen pulls a nearly Chestertonian reversal of expectations, so that the very thing that could have pointed to God is turned back on itself. He doesn’t just leave God out in the cold; he blows him a Bronx cheer. Is the shift from being willing to live with having done it (Crimes and Misdemeanors) to getting away with it (Match Point) related to the vagaries of Allen’s life over the last 15 years? Is Allen smirking over the universe’s failure to punish him for his sins? Complacency doesn’t make for great art. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a messy masterpiece. Match Point is a neat diagram, with clean lines, photogenic leads, good acting, a terrific twist — and no soul.

Recently released on DVD, Little Manhattan is a well-meaning but misguided bittersweet look at puppy love. Ten-year-old Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) still officially believes that girls have cooties when he unexpectedly finds that 11-year-old Rosemarie (Charlie Ray), his one-time kindergarten gal-pal, suddenly sets his heart to pounding, his mouth to stammering, and his body to pratfalling.

Unfortunately, Gabe’s running angst-driven voiceover narration wears thin early on, especially given the overly knowing, world-weary adult sensibility of lines like “This much I know firsthand: Love ends” and “The truth is, you come into this world alone, and you leave it the exact same way.” Gabe should know: His parents are in the process of divorcing, and his fifth-grade incipient romance is doomed by summer-camp plans, if nothing else. Despite engaging moments, Little Manhattan comes off as grade-school prep for modern serial romance. Yuck.

The Mel Gibson vehicle The Patriot returns to DVD this week in an extended cut with 11-odd minutes of deleted scenes reworked into the film. The British take a beating in more ways than one in this sentimental, manipulative, rousing action-movie take on the American Revolution that blends meticulous period visuals with cartoonish historical revisionism.

The Patriot spares nothing of the horrors of war, and a heartfelt early speech against going to war is striking. Yet the villainous British officers might as well be Nazis — indeed, their worst atrocity, rounding up civilians into a church and burning it down, was historically committed by Nazis, not Redcoats. Not a great film, The Patriot is a well-made, exciting popcorn flick with some worthwhile ideas, heartfelt sentiments and striking sequences. The best of these is a riveting parley scene, with punctiliously observed rules of civilized conduct under wartime offering a welcome counterpoint to the savagery of the rest of the film.