$2.50 Reviews: Matchstick Men (2003)

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$2.50 Reviews

Matchstick Man

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Matchstick Men is a bizarre film, teaming up Ridley Scott and Nicolas Cage, two men who have made some ... odd choices over their history in the film industry, and the result is a movie of almost unmeasurable success. It's not always enjoyable or fun to watch, but when it comes to making a good movie, nobody knows how to do it better than Scott, and when it comes to turning in a performance that is always intriguing, Nicolas Cage is your man. Here, he creates a great character, and with Scott behind the camera, he's put into a clever story.

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The film begins like many others. We find Cage's character, a neurotic chain-smoker named Roy, joined by his partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), in a con. He convinces a naïve woman to buy a water filtration system, then, after she finds out she's been had, he appears as a detective who claims that in order to get the money back, he needs access to the woman's bank account. It's a brilliant plan that is well-executed, and sets up these characters wonderfully. We learn enough about them in the first few minutes to carry the entire film.

However, an element will soon be introduced which changes Roy's entire outlook on life -- kind of. It is discovered that he has a daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), and soon enough, she has entered his life and wants in on his "antique business," which is what he calls his con-artistry. There's a big job coming up, Angela is starting to bond with her father, and Roy's obsessive compulsive disorder is really acting up. It all leads to one satisfying conclusion, which in turn brings up a twist in the story that makes you think that the film is too clever for its own good.

There are really two stories here, and each of them deserves its own film. It takes skill in order to ensure that each one gets the time to work; it's a balancing act that's tough to pull off. Fortunately, this is Ridley Scott we're dealing with here. He knows how much time needs to be spent on them, and he makes sure that we get the time to develop these characters and also keep the major con in play and in our minds.

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There's more to the story than meets the eye, too, which you'll find out right before the credits roll. I won't spoil it, but suffice to say that there's a twist which might not make you too happy. If you've read the book the film is based on, you'll know it beforehand and will likely be satisfied with how it is executed, but if you don't, you'll be in for a bit of a shock. It ultimately works, and the scenes following it are so well-done that I can't complain too much, but it did come off as trying too hard.

What really drives the film is Nicolas Cage's performance. He does neurotic without going over-the-top, and manages to still bring enough energy to the table to ensure that we don't get bored. When he has bursts of OCD, it's kind of scary, but it's fascinating all the same. The tics that he adds don't detract, even though they easily could. He captures exactly what he needs to, and delivers one of the best performances of his career, hit and miss as it may be.

As the child, despite being over the age of twenty when filming began, Alison Lohman is believable. She's playing a fourteen-year-old in this film, and I would never have guessed that she was older. Her actual age is likely a benefit, as you're not going to find too many children of her character's age who can bring forward a performance this deep. Sam Rockwell is as good as he normally is, although I felt that he was underused in the few scenes that he gets. I would have liked to see more of him, really, as Rockwell is always enjoyable to watch on-screen.

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There is enough style given to the film to make it worthwhile, and both parts to the story are interesting in their own rights. While there are lots of points in the film that could be boring -- either they were clichéd or simply not terribly interesting -- the performances and Scott's direction ensure that you'll always have something to watch. Plot twist included, even though I'm not sure it completely holds up upon inspection. Perhaps it does, but I'd have to watch it again to find out.

And don't get me wrong: I'll probably see Matchstick Men again someday. It was mostly enjoyable, and has enough depth to make it worth seeing again. It is not the best movie Ridley Scott has ever done, but look at his filmography and I don't know why you would expect it to be. It is a nice change of pace from his larger budget films, though, and I'm happy to have seen it. I'm not even sure what else I wanted from it; I just wasn't completely pleased.

Matchstick Men is a good film featuring fascinating stories and a very enjoyable performance by Nicolas Cage. While I'm not sure if it all holds up with closer inspection, I know that I'll be watching it again at some point in the future so that I can find out. All three leading performances were strong, although I would have liked to see more of Sam Rockwell. This is a film that you should definitely give a chance, especially if you're a fan of either Cage or Scott. The former turns in one of the performances of his career, while the other has a lower-budget film that is a nice departure from his usual works.

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