Matchstick Men Movie Review

A post-pubescent "Paper Moon" with a hell of a hair-pin twist, "Matchstick Men" features sublimely winning performances by Nicholas Cage, as an unhinged obsessive-compulsive con artist named Roy, and Alison Lohman ("White Oleander") as his tomboy-cutie teenage daughter Angela, who has such a gift for the grift that it sends her dad into a tizzy of pride, consternation and self-conscious moral conflict.

Her effervescent, skateboarding arrival into his life -- thanks to a new shrink (Bruce Altman) who encouraged him to look up the wife he left pregnant 14 years ago -- dishevels Roy's hospital-corners life. But surprisingly enough, her clothes strewn around his house, pizza dinners and ice cream breakfasts (Roy eats nothing but tuna fish -- from the can) slowly chip away at his neuroses (well that and those new blue pills the shrink is giving him) as our guy begins to enjoy fatherhood.

Soon he's loosened up so much he's ready to break his own rules of playing it safe with small-time flimflams and take a risky shot at a big-money "long con" -- a currency exchange sting on a shady businessman -- that his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) has been pitching him for months. Of course, Angela wants in on the action too, so in a scene typical of the movie's spontaneous sense of humor, she begins cataloging aloud all her "learning experiences" with boys until he relents in a fluster of hear-no-evil fatherly instinct.

The details of this swindle are a tad confusing, but it hardly matters in a film so entertaining. Adapted from a novel by Eric Garcia and directed by Ridley Scott -- who is surprisingly deft with comedy after a long career of outsized drama and action ("Hannibal," "Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator," "Blade Runner," "Alien") -- "Matchstick Men" has a glib whimsy that is a perfect fit for the talents of its cast.

Tic-prone and amusingly anxious, Cage carries Roy's personality arc with 100 percent credibility -- from agoraphobe and chronic clean-freak (but a smoker nonetheless) who decides to not blow his brains out because it would mess up the carpet, to frantically devoted dad who begins to let down his guard to a potentially dangerous degree.

As Roy adjusts to angsty ups-and-downs of parenting a teenage girl, Cage's chemistry with Lohman becomes the movie's best asset. Extraordinarily natural in her impulsive adolescence (you'd never, ever guess she's really 23), the actress embodies with her whole being the entire range of Angela's personality, from giddy, 14-year-old ingenuousness to bursts of emotional vulnerability that bring out Roy's knee-jerked protective-papa instincts. (It's her apparently rocky relationship with her mom that eventually lands the girl on his couch on a semi-permanent basis.)

Underutilized but too talented and cool to be a scene-stealer, Rockwell ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind") is charming and vaguely serpentine as Frank, who can't seem to decide if Angela is more of an asset or a distraction. And Scott picked a great supporting cast, including character actor Bruce McGill (who has been everything from D-Day in "Animal House" to a Southern congressman with a gay dog in "Legally Blonde 2") as the unexpectedly wily mark for the grifters' big score.

The director lends the film a snappy, Los-Angeles sunny but ever-so-slightly seedy style too, and he makes clever, effective yet unobtrusive use of herky-jerky frame removals and quick-chop edits to glimpse inside Roy's chaotically meticulous mind.

"Matchstick Men" ends a little too tidily, and lingering doubts about the complexities of the central scam do come back to haunt the film when working your way back through the twists after the credits roll and the fog clears. There are also a few potential plot give-aways that may tip off those who don't go with the flow.

But the picture's accumulation of shrewdness, talent, panache and wit supersede its retrospective faults. In fact, "Matchstick Men" is one of just a handful of films this year that I'm actually eager to see again.


Comments

Matchstick Men Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, September 12, 2003

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

"Hercules" Falters, While "Lucy" Shines At The Box Office With $44 Million

This week at the box office, the sci-fi thriller Lucy won out over slim...

The New Mockingjay Trailer Will Make Your Heart Weep

Another Comic-Con, another Hunger Games trailer. Not that we mind, of course...

The New Mockingjay Trailer Will Make Your Heart Weep

Director George Miller Speaks On Purposely Avoiding Use Of CGI In 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

It has been over three decades since Australian filmmaker...

Director George Miller Speaks On Purposely Avoiding Use Of CGI In 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

Taylor Swift Offers Advice To A Young Fan With A Broken Heart

If her songs are anything to go by, then Taylor Swift is definitely the person you should...

 Taylor Swift Offers Advice To A Young Fan With A Broken Heart

Over 20 Fans Hospitalized Following Keith Urban's Weekend Concert

For many concertgoers, Keith Urban's Saturday night (July 26th) show in...

Over 20 Fans Hospitalized Following Keith Urban's Weekend Concert

Aretha Franklin Lashes Out At Canadian Fast Food Join For Showing Her No Respect

Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has publically scolded an employee at...

Aretha Franklin Lashes Out At Canadian Fast Food Join For Showing Her No Respect
Advertisement

Flirt Alert: Did Orlando Bloom And Nina Dobrev Really Get Close At Comic-Con?

Ok, so the romance at Comic-Con is definitely secondary to the first...

Flirt Alert: Did Orlando Bloom And Nina Dobrev Really Get Close At Comic-Con?

Nicki Minaj Announces Postponement Of New Single 'Anaconda' With Sexy Swimsuit Pic

Nicki Minaj managed to garner the attention of an undoubtedly...

Nicki Minaj Announces Postponement Of New Single 'Anaconda' With Sexy Swimsuit Pic

Comic-Con Update: Evangeline Lilly Joins The Cast Of Ant-Man Amid Production Mishaps

More Marvel. More cast announcements. This is Comic-Con weekend. The latest round...

Comic-Con Update: Evangeline Lilly Joins The Cast Of Ant-Man Amid Production Mishaps


More recommendations

Advertisement