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Matchstick Men

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // September 12, 2003
List Price: Unknown

Review by Megan Denny | posted September 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Matchstick Men

There are other film critics, who will go unnamed, jumping up and down and shouting, "Best Picture! Best Actor! Best Director!" for Matchstick Men. No, no, no, no, no. It's not all that. Nicholas Cage is great in this film. It's one of his best performances. Sam Rockwell, is also very good. But this is no best picture. The script isn't as tight as it should be, and the direction is a bit hackneyed. Best Actor, even Best Supporting Actor, yeah. Both Cage and Rockwell deserve a nomination. Best Picture? Far from it.

Roy has been a con man all his life, and he's good at it. He's also an obsessive-compulsive neat freak who's addicted to anti-anxiety drugs. When Roy runs out of pills he is forced to see a new psychiatrist who wants to talk through his problems rather than simply prescribe them away, Yikes. He later learns that his ex-wife has a fourteen-year-old daughter that might be his. Double yikes.

Her name is Angela and she turns out to be exactly what Roy needs in his life. In just a few hours she turns his immaculate house upside-down but he just can't hate her for it. In fact, he's feeling better than he has felt in years. He reveals to her that he's a con man and she thinks he's the best thing since MTV. Before long, Roy shows Angela how to do a simple con, and discovers she's a natural! The plot thickens when, in the middle of a dad and daughter day out, Roy suddenly has to bring Angela with him to complete a risky job.

The film overall is fairly smart, and extremely well-acted, Cage's performance is worth the price of matinee admission alone and I for one am excited to see him finally back to his pre-Leaving Las Vegas style of acting. Sam Rockwell is great as Roy's partner and his delivery is a mix of his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Chuck Barris with a little of Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden.

There's a lot to like in Matchstick Men, and there's also a lot to forgive. When it comes down to it, Cage makes this film, and it would be complete crap without him. If you were to go back in time and give this script to a director who knows how to work with a script which is both plot and character heavy, say, Sam Mendes (American Beauty) or Paul Schrader (Affliction), then you'd have something. This film, in the hands of action director Ridley Scott truly suffers.

To Scott's credit, Matchstick Men is based on a 240 page novel. Okay, adaptations are tough. We all saw Nic Cage's last film, didn't we? But Matchstick Men has too much story crammed into too short of a time frame and Roy's transition from neurotic con man to gentle father moves too quickly to be believed. Cage is great in the role and successfully manages to make the majority of his character's giant emotional leaps seem somewhat realistic, but he can't save 'em all. In one particular scene where Roy and Angela are at the bank, Roy makes a knee-jerk emotional decision that you just can't believe. At the preview screening I observed people around me literally lean over to the person next to them and say, "What? Why would he do that?" The film loses all its momentum and grinds to a halt. These are not contradictions that are meant to add depth to the character. They are just errors in logic and basic plot development problems, and all the audience gets for an explanation is a shot of Roy looking really sad. Oh yeah, and the ending feels totally tacked-on and is extremely corny.

I am recommending Matchstick Men solely based on the excellence of Nicholas Cage's performance. It will be astonishing if he does not receive a nomination for this role. Just remember to set your brain to "idle" as you enter the theater.

-Megan A. Denny




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