Reviewed by GREG KING
(New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow)
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, Bruce Altman
Running time: 116 minutes.
Cinema audiences have always been fascinated with the exploits of con artists, and the genre has provided us with a number of classic films, like The Sting, etc. Although there is something of a formula to these films, audiences have willingly been taken in by the elaborate planning of these charming confidence tricksters as they prepare to fleece some unsavoury character of his ill-gotten loot, and the almost obligatory, unexpected twist in the tale. Something of a cross between The Sting and Paper Moon, Matchstick Men marries the elaborate con game with the more personal story of the relationship that develops between a veteran con man and his teenage daughter.
Roy (Nicolas Cage) is a con artist with more phobias and neuroses than you can shake a psychiatrist’s textbook at. While he’s on the job he seems remarkably focussed and in control of his afflictions, but when at home he is a bundle of nerves, barely able to control his tics and nervous mannerisms. His partner and protege Frank Mercer (the very busy Sam Rockwell, from The Green Mile and the recent Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, etc) seems able to deal with Roy’s condition. And Roy’s new psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) seems to be getting some good results with his approach to therapy.
But then in the middle of an elaborate scheme to fleece an arrogant millionaire (Bruce McGill), Roy learns that he has a teenaged daughter from his failed marriage who is keen to meet him. Enter Angela (Alison Lohman), who brings some unwanted complications to Roy’s already turbulent life. But when Alison begins to show an uncanny gift for the grift, Roy reluctantly allows her to participate in his latest scheme, which throws them both into danger and changes the nature of their burgeoning relationship.
Matchstick Men is a quirky, character-driven film that sees director Ridley Scott pull back from the impressively staged action sequences and epic scope of his previous films (Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) for something a bit more personal and human in scope, more like his sensational Thelma And Louise. But he also seems to have an affinity for these flawed characters, and he ensures that the film remains surprisingly entertaining and upbeat.
Scott also draws superb performances from his three leads that lifts the film above many of the cliches of this genre. Cage’s performance taps into some of the gestures and mannerisms previously adopted by Jack Nicholson in his Oscar winning role as an obsessive compulsive in As Good As It Gets, and Cage’s performance here seems to be aiming for similar Oscar recognition as well. Lohman, who delivered an impressive performance in While Oleander recently, brings a wonderful tomboyish quality and maturity to her role here. Rockwell continues to impress with yet another charming and energetic performance, and he also brings a touch of arrogance and a wonderful touch of droll humour to his role.
Matchstick Men is an engaging and entertaining film that deftly eschews many of the conventions of this genre. With Scott’s insistence on focussing on its interesting characters rather than the central scam Matchstick Men is more interesting than a number of recent films of this type that have ultimately seemed tired, formulaic and predictible.