Combustible Celluloid
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With: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard, Maduka Steady, Jaime Tirelli, Rob Yang
Written by: Stephen Belber, based on his play
Directed by: Stephen Belber
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual dialogue and some drug use
Running Time: 90
Date: 01/23/2015

Match (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Close Before Striking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Match features three of my favorite actors -- none of whom have never received an Oscar nomination -- and showcases each of them at the top of his or her game. Patrick Stewart is a Shakespearian trained master who is best known for sci-fi and comic book movies; with his role as Juilliard dance instructor Tobi Powell, he finds a middle ground between serious and fun. He's flamboyant, he's a snappy dresser, he's very funny, he knits, saves fingernails, and drinks. He agrees to be interviewed by Lisa (Carla Gugino) and her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard); she tells him she's working on a dissertation about dancing in the free love era. But, really, they have a more personal agenda.

Match comes from a play by Stephen Belber, who also gave us Tape (made into a film by Richard Linklater in 2001). Belber adapted the screenplay and directs the film. He does a fine job of "opening up" the play, or making it breathe a bit, by including a few extra scenes, such as Tobi in his dance studio, or Mike conferencing with a colleague, as well as some exteriors to establish the New York/Brooklyn locations. Most of the movie takes place in an apartment, but the fluid motion and editing rarely feels overly constricted or overly constructed.

Sadly, Belber is less effective at covering up the film's surprise plot twists. They're fairly obvious, since they are pretty much the only reason the story could exist, but perhaps it would have been better to be up front about them right away, so that more time could be spent on the characters rather than on the twists.

Even so, Belber does give plenty of space and energy for the three actors. Stewart's role is showiest, and he's lots of fun. His fans will either be thrilled or nonplussed that he's doing something so different (unless you happened to see him in the 1995 film Jeffrey). Gugino has rarely received a role so rich. She begins the story cloaked in deception, and eventually she's challenged at a level of truthfulness, and eventually at a level of sexuality. She lets these layers fall away, not without pain or resistance, and she achieves a truly striking balance. Lillard -- for whom I called for an Oscar nomination for his performance in Scooby-Doo (2002) -- has the hardest role, an angry cop, prone to violent outbursts. Yet instead of becoming an enemy, he finds the source of the character's anguish and makes it universal.

By the end of Match, I didn't so much care about the plot twists as I cared about these three people. I was glad that they had met, and that they spent this time together. And I was glad I got to spend it with them.

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