Roy (Nicolas Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) are an odd couple of conniving ‘matchstick men’ who work scams. Roy is obsessively neat, hyperstrung and agoraphobic, while Frank is messy and chaotic and laid back. Roy keeps the gains of his grifts in a safety deposit box. Frank is itching to go big. Roy’s mental state drives him to a psychiatrist (Bruce Altman), who provides him with pills to keep himself manageable – and agrees to contact Roy’s ex-wife, and then reveals to Roy that he has a 14 year old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman). Roy contacts her and they quickly strike up a strong relationship. He even tells her his real line of work - and when the two con artists target a flashy businessman for a big sting, she insists on being part of the action, which leads to complications and outcomes Roy could never have imagined in his most fevered
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I really enjoy sting movies. I love the scheming and the cool manipulation required to pull off a clever con. Ages ago, The Sting; recently, Confidence … I like the violence-free battle of minds and wits, the power of mental strategy over brute force. Generally speaking, the victims of these stories are either nasty rich shits or nasty rich corporations so we can avoid the guilt trip that goes with it. It’s just escapist fun, clever writing and thinking.
Matchstick Men is part of this tradition, a cleverly planned switcheroo story in which the twist at the end is the knife in the back. And what a terrific set of elements, from Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell, to Ridley Scott and his talented crew. But it sucks. The novel may work (I haven’t read it) but the screenplay doesn’t; it’s so plastic, so processed and manufactured as to be almost unpalatable. It also dives in and out of farcical character comedy (odd couple goes criminal), crime caper mode, and majors in Fatherhood for Bad Guys.
Nicolas Cage goes from tick-infested neurotic to a well rounded, balanced pillar of society, but I don’t buy his character. For once, Nic is caught acting. After his extraordinary performance/s in Adaptation, this is a mannered, physically flakey performance; a real let-down. But I’m not sure of it isn’t Ridley Scott’s fault. Still, Rockwell and the young Alison Lohman are both absolutely terrific. Where the script fails is in its episodic structure and its forced situations; the film plays like a drive along a road littered with endless signs that signal the plot points and the emotional milestones we are passing. Some scenes work very well in terms of drama and character, and the production values, music and cinematography are splendid. So there are just enough elements to keep the film from falling over, but it’s a disappointment, and the final two scenes negate whatever is left of the film’s meatier intentions.
Review by Louise Keller:
With the Ridley Scott seal of approval, a wicked script that hums and a character-driven plot that spirals to the top of the scam-tree, Matchstick Men is a wild ride. “If you’re going to get wet, you may as well go swimming,” is a phrase we hear a couple of times, the moral of which could not be more true. From his recent projects on a giant canvas to this small-scale one, Scott displays his skill to hone in on the characters, the performances and the nuances the story offers.
While this is a film about a con, it is also one about relationships. And it is through these beautifully developed relationships that the story and the con plays out. There’s the long-term relationship between Nicolas Cage’s obsessively compulsive paranoid Roy with Sam Rockwell’s gung-ho Frank: partners in crime (or should I say con?) They’re an odd couple indeed, with Roy fanatic about cleanliness as he picks up imaginary pieces of fluff from the carpet, cleans every little spot on the window and opens a door three times before entering; Frank, on the other hand, is a casual slob. We watch them at work together, when they suddenly become two hands on a clock, ticking together as they move towards the completion of their scam. But then we see a different side of Roy, as he forms a bond with his psychiatrist and begins to bare his soul.
It is at this point that the most important relationship of all begins – that between Roy and his teenage daughter Alison. From quivering wreck to authoritative parent and beyond, the journey is pretty broad and we are drawn to both these characters, each of which is searching for something from the other. Cage is brilliant as the quivering apology of a man who keeps a stack of brown paper bags handy to counter his hyperventilating fits. Cage wavers between being highly amusing and deeply tragic, and by the end of the film, we feel as though we have travelled far with him and through intense times. Rockwell is splendid as Frank, who clearly has no conscience, but it’s Alison Lohman who steals our hearts. Her vivacious Angela with braces, dimples and a zest for living infects us with her energy and enthusiasm, combining a girlish innocence with a brash worldliness. A laid-back jazzy score with plenty of Sinatra give the film just the right mood and music impresario Hans Zimmer’s diversity kicks in when tension builds as events reach their climax. Matchstick Men delivers plenty – from the emotional involvement with the characters to the whopper of a scam – this is a film that has it all.
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MATCHSTICK MEN (M)
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill
PRODUCER: Jack Rapke, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey, Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
SCRIPT: Nicholas & Ted Griffin (novel by Eric Garcia)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Mathieson
EDITOR: Dody Dorn
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Foden
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 2, 2003