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Matchstick Men

Warner Bros. // R // February 24, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

An oddball comedy/drama from director Ridley Scott, "Matchstick Men" ventures into familiar territory for the con-artist genre, but throws in twists and operates well enough on a few levels to keep it from being too predictable. Nicholas Cage stars as Roy, an ace con artist who happens to suffer from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. When on his medication, he keeps things under control - if not, his life pretty much falls apart.

One particularly poor day, Roy accidentally knocks his pills into the sink and stares in horror as the pills slide down the drain, followed by the plastic bottle. The result is a week of hiding from the world in his house, cleaning things and ignoring the calls of his partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell). While Roy is an ace who's got enough money to retire if he wanted to, the younger Frank still has "car payments" and other worries.

After going to a psychologist, Roy manages to convince his shrink to call his ex-wife to find out about the status of the child who may or may not have been his. Into his neat-and-organized life comes Angela (Alison Lohman - a 20-something convincingly playing a teen), a 14-year-old who has always wanted to meet her father. Although he keeps trying to work around his chosen line of work ("I'm in antiques!"), she already has an idea of his background and it's not long before she wants in on the next scam.

While one can easily see what route the film is taking - Roy becomes a better person after meeting his daughter, she wants in on the cons, etc, "Matchstick Men" deals with both the con-artist capers and the father/daughter drama pretty well, thanks to superb performances. Cage's performance doesn't take the character's tics and obsessive-compulsive issues to an over-the-top level (although they come close at times), while also suggesting some of the hurt and suffering that he has being locked into these habits. Rockwell brings energy and sharp delivery to Frank, making for a perfect counterpoint to Roy's restrained and restricted existence. Lohman is understanding and smart in a small role, and is terrific working with Cage. All three actors make a good deal out of what aren't particularly well-developed characters. The film's mixture of comedy and drama is generally well-handled, although this is mostly dramatic fare.

John Mathieson, Scott's usual cinematographer, gievs the picture a nice, low-key style and a few camera tricks do a moderately good job of getting the audience into the head of the Cage character. An interesting mix of music gives the picture a very retro flavor that works in the film's favor. Overall, I liked the film, yet never really was completely won over by it. While the screenplay by Ted and Nicholas Griffin (from a novel by Eric Garcia) never really shades in the characters completely, it does do a fine job weaving the film's two "stories" together. The ending...well, the rest of it worked well enough that the stumble towards the finale really doesn't make the whole suffer terribly.


VIDEO: "Matchstick Men" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is generally excellent, with the only issue being a little bit of edge enhancement present in a few scenes. Sharpness and detail are terrific, as the picture remains bright and crisp throughout, with good shadow detail. The print seemed pristine, while the film's somewhat subdued color palette appeared accurately rendered and without issue.

SOUND: "Matchstick Men" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is largely a conversative mix, as one might be expecting from such a dialogue-driven film. However, when appropriate, the film does put the surrounds to use for some light-to-moderate ambience and reinforcement of the music. There's not much bass involved, but music, dialogue and sound effects seemed clear and cleanly recorded.


Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ridley Scott and writers Ted and Nicholas Griffin. Although most don't listen to commentaries before watching the movie anyway, one definitely shouldn't listen to the commentary first - the Griffins (who were recorded separately from Scott) discuss the ending of the movie within the first couple of minutes of the commentary. Scott's comments are insightful and straightforward, discussing a fine amount of detail about the development of the characters, production aspects and what attracted him to the project. The Griffins are lighter and quite amusing in their discussion of the film, throwing some amusing stories out about the early moments of the project, talking about the development of the screenplay and commenting on the final result.

Tricks of the Trade: This is a 71-minute documentary directed by Charles de Lauzirika, the DVD producer who has worked with Scott in the past. The documentary is split into three parts - the pre-production, production and post-production. We hear from most of the people involved in the production, including members of the cast and crew members, such as the film's casting director, costume designer, editor, and production designer. De Lauzirika's documentary is quite well done, capturing the behind-the-scenes material in a natural, unforced manner and editing the material in a way that nicely mixes up the "talking heads" interview segments and the behind-the-scenes footage, which allows the audience a look at filming, meetings and such events as location scouting. Occasional subtitles give us a further idea of the schedule, show locations and add other important notes. This is an excellent feature that has a sense of fun about the process, offers an interesting look at the day-to-day life of the production and allows us in on meetings and problem solving.

Also: The film's trailer.

Final Thoughts: I'll say "Matchstick Men" was good (and maybe very good at times), but never quite great. The film's performances are good, the script is largely well-done and Scott is able to inject his sense of style into a smaller piece than he usually does. However, the pacing is a little too relaxed at times and while there were a few surprises, some aspects of the film were predictable and some didn't work for me. Still, worth watching. Warner's DVD edition provides very good audio/video and a couple of terrific, insightful suppelements. Recommended as a rental, or a purchase for fans of the film.

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