Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Matchstick Men (2003): A Review

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
A film by Ridley Scott

With the track record of Ridley Scott in mind (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Black Hawk Down), any time the man makes a new movie I am automatically interested in it. He has a history of creativity and excellence in filmmaking and any new movie that he directs is worth giving a chance. It was with high expectations that I went into “Matchstick Men”, a story of a con-artist.

Roy (Nicolas Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) are partners in the art of conning people out of their money. As Roy explains in the film, he doesn’t steal people’s money, they give it to him. They are mainly working small phone scams for smaller payouts (though Roy seems to be well off considering the size of his house), but Frank is looking to get a big score, which Roy agrees to work. Simple enough, but Roy also has some serious issues. He is compulsive (he must turn the locks or open and close doors three times before actually opening the door all the way), somewhat manic, and he has trouble dealing with the outdoors. Neatness/cleanliness is another issue. Roy is a man with tics.

Into this imperfect, but somewhat structured life comes a big change: Roy’s daughter Angela (Alison Lohman). When Roy accidentally knocks his supply of medication down the drain, Roy has to start searching for a psychologist who will prescribe some more on short notice. The doctor he does find also suggests that Roy gets in contact with his daughter, whom he has never met. Angela is a breath of fresh air into Roy’s otherwise empty life, but it is also causing some conflict into the big con that Roy and Frank are working on.

My expectations may have been too high, because I wasn’t overly impressed with “Matchstick Men”. For the first half to two thirds of the movie, I just could not engage with the characters. Part of the problem probably lies in the fact that I do not care for Nicolas Cage as an actor. It just seems like he is trying too hard to create a character through personality tics (with the notable exceptions of Leaving Las Vegas, and The Family Man). His characters are just not likeable, or interesting enough for me to engage with, but I understand that this is just a personal perception.

The shining star of the movie is Alison Lohman (also in White Oleander) who was nearly 10 years older than the age she was playing in the movie. She can act and look so young and vulnerable despite being in her mid 20’s. The rest of the acting was well done (though I still don’t care for Cage), but it didn’t all come together like I would have expected. The idea of the “con” runs throughout the entire movie and there are several twists along the way, but this is a fairly lightweight movie up until about three quarters of the way through the movie when it completely changes in tone (and oddly enough becomes a better movie). I hoped for so much more from “Matchstick Men”, but I didn’t think it lived up to the promise of what it could have been with the talent involved.


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