Matchstick Men

Matchstick Men


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Now you see it, now you don't.

Reality is a fabrication, as the illusionist and con artist can justify. Be careful of truth; it has a tendency to backfire on you. Be more careful of trust and greed; they are viruses that infect your judgement.

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Matchstick Men is devilish clever. The plot has holes as big as horses, but you hardly notice, because the performances have their hooks in early and Ridley Scott's direction runs as smooth as mercury.

Roy (Nicolas Cage) takes medication. If he doesn't, he panics. He is afraid of the outdoors. He is obsessive about cleanliness, although he chain smokes, which is odd. He won't allow anyone's shoes on his carpet. He doesn't have a TV and eats a tin of tuna every evening. He used to be married 14 years ago, he used to drink. That's all in the past now. He thinks he may have a child, but isn't certain. He has facial ticks and little routines, like counting to three before opening doors.

He's good at his job. He works with Frank (Sam Rockwell), his protege. They are confidence tricksters. He's made a stack of money, which he keeps in a bank deposit box. He's not entirely happy with what he does. He has no life that might be considered free of fear. Open a window and he can hardly breath. Drop a crumb on the floor and his blood pressure soars.

And then he meets Angela (Alison Lohman). It was his shrink's idea. The daughter he didn't know he had. Of course, it is traumatic and messy and incomprehensible for him. She stays over. He begins to feel the fear dissolve. She brings him the life he has forgotten how to use.

Before listening for violins and gluing your throat with munchkin pie, the sentimentality inherent in such an emotional situation is held firmly in check. Angela is a tough kid and Roy can hardly cope with her inquisitive nature. "Why do you keep a gun?" "In case." "In case of what?" "It's hard to explain."

He does explain. Not about the gun, but about the job, and she wants in. Suddenly, it's Paper Moon, father and daughter scamming together. Or is it? Roy and Frank are in the middle of a massive sting, which demands careful planning and precision timing. Angela could be a hindrance, or she could be a help. Or she could be in danger. Consequence has a disturbing habit of kicking your teeth in, just when you least expect it.

Cage carries the film and Lohman supports him during darker moments. Together, they bridge the gap between incredulity and involvement. Cage is Roy to the edge of understanding. Lohman is Angela until the sky falls.

"You're not a bad guy," she tells him. "You're just not a very good one."

In fact, he's better. He's surprising.

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2003
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Matchstick Men packshot
Nicolas Cage is an emotionally disturbed con artist who discovers a daughter.
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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin, based on the book by Eric Garcia

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Sheila Kelley

Year: 2003

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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