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Overall Rating

Awesome: 30.67%
Worth A Look40%
Average: 17.33%
Pretty Bad: 10.67%
Total Crap: 1.33%

4 reviews, 51 user ratings

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Matchstick Men
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Try & Fool Me A 37th Time...Shame On You"
2 stars

I have seen way too many con-men movies to be fooled anymore. Is that overstepping my bounds as a film observer to take such baggage in with me? Of course not. I’ve seen the tricks. I know what to look for. David Mamet has taught it to me too well and several of his protégés have followed suit and I know when a filmmaker is holding a flush and when he is just bluffing. It’s distracting to be ahead of the storyteller and if I was proven wrong then I would owe Matchstick Men a second viewing since my suspicions hung a tornado cloud over every scene that I was supposed to be caring about. Ultimately I was proven right and discovered that there was nothing to care about after all.

Nicolas Cage plays Roy, a con artist who along with his partner/protégé, Frank (Sam Rockwell) milk phone scams for profit (getting in just under the wire before that nationwide “no-call list” goes into effect.) Roy’s an agoraphobic, obsessive, compulsive mess who turns to marathon cleaning sessions when his pills run out and doctor skips town.

Frank, part concerned for Roy’s well-being and part having a blatant disregard for his phobias, puts him in touch with a new doctor (Bruce Altman) who helped out his sister during a rough period. Roy meets with Dr. Klein for the explicit reason to just obtain his necessary dosage. When his ex-marriage comes up, the Doc recommends trying to get in touch with the child his wife was pregnant with when he left. Roy, being too scared, gets the Doc to do it for him.

Enter Angela (Alison Lohman), the 14-year old daughter Roy never got to meet. She tells him the troubles of living with mom and all her new boyfriends who want nothing to do with her. When Roy isn’t dropping her off a block away from her home, she wants to stay with him to get further acquainted.

Despite the regular headaches involved with keeping himself afloat, add in a newfound responsibility of fatherhood to which your child wants to learn the family business. At first hesitant under the guise of steadfast parenting, Roy likes the idea of being able to share this part of his life with someone and may now have someone worth the huge stash of money hidden in his ceramic dog and safety deposit box.

Now, what I’ve just shared with you is no more and no less than what the screenplay has given us. Nothing up the sleeves, no rabbit in the hat and nothing on the surface where you should suspect anything but a character study about a con man and his daughter.

(Game Show Buzzer BUZZES!!!)

Sometimes what you don’t see can be far more telling than the elements pushing the story headlong to its conclusion. The occasional twisty movie doesn’t play fair with the audience, distorting us into an unsolvable knot that gives us no opportunity to predict its conclusion because it’s just not solvable. (See: Basic) Others use gimmicks that ruin an otherwise compelling mystery. (See: Identity) The con artist manipulation is usually far more subtle, unless you’re working with a collaboration of old tricks in an utterly inferior and improbable manner. (See: Confidence). Or Matchstick Men.

This is (by my count) the eighth movie released just this year to go for the proverbial rug-pull. Do you want to sit down and count with me how many have been released just since David Mamet’s superior 1987 thriller, House of Games, also a character study that brought us headdeep into the world of con men? The joy of the Mamet productions is that he either puts us right into the place of the victim (as in 1998’s The Spanish Prisoner) or allows us to relish in the deceptions visited upon the villains by our heroes (as in 2001’s Heist). When WE are the mark, it’s no fun. Especially when you’re two reels ahead of the plot or a single phone call could spoil the elaboration.

I felt a bit guilty having this attitude while watching Matchstick Men. At one point the script, adapted from Eric Garcia’s book by Ted & Nicholas Griffin and directed (a bit flaccidly) by Ridley Scott, looked to head in a direction that would prove me wrong and I sat back immediately reexamining the film’s relationships. Was there something deeper going on here that I overlooked in my bid for ultimate cleverness? Was this all a tale about growth, lessons learned and comeuppance? Even before all is revealed and people change for the better, the answer is a resounding “not really.”

Cage does a greatest hits package of his spastic ticks and outbursts. (I’ve also seen way too many Cage movies to be impressed by these choices anymore.) Some moments work, others are double derivatives, not to mention double negatives. Why would such a hyperactive OC case also be a chain smoker? Wouldn’t he worry just as much about fragile cigarette ashes as the miniscule carpet fibers that have to be vacuumed back down to perfection? The always great Sam Rockwell does what he can with an underwritten role and wouldn’t surprise us a bit if every one of his moments was ad-libbed. Alison Lohman is also quite good here playing ten years her junior and trying to trump Claire Danes and Natalie Portman in the on-screen crying department.

Without even referencing the circumstances involving the shady businessman (Bruce McGill), the “long con” which Frank talks Roy into and the potential for violence that comes out of it, even the most half-assed of audiences should be seeing where this film is headed. Ultimately I had contempt for that destination far beyond what I had already perceived. It didn’t feel warranted and its impetus is the stuff of outlines, not characterization. Only one movie (of the eight) this year fooled me to the jolt of electrocution. It was not a film loaded with “tells” and told a true case-in-point character study that would have been just as intelligent without the seat-shaking finality. To analogize Mamet, Matchstick Men plays with its gold ring too early and uses a squirt gun where an uzi is required. Don’t be fooled though, if you’ve never seen a movie about con men before you’re likely to enjoy Matchstick Men. If you’ve seen just one, two or three this year alone, you should know what to expect.

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originally posted: 09/12/03 15:40:26
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User Comments

8/30/08 Shaun Wallner Nicholas Cage is great in all his films. 5 stars
5/17/07 ES yeah, predictable but enjoyable none the less 4 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Too contrived by half. Utterly predictable. 2 stars
4/30/06 Agent Sands Very comfortably atmospheric con flick with a brilliant cast and production values. 5 stars
2/23/06 Frank Rountree Cage was great! good movie 4 stars
10/26/05 roy holt Rockwell is outstanding 5 stars
10/24/05 Indrid Cold Extremely well done, but mega twist endings are getting tiresome. 5 stars
7/07/05 ALDO enjoyable movie...well worth a look 4 stars
7/06/05 Steve Newman Guessed the end with 20 mins to go - what a great film though - go see!!! 5 stars
1/28/05 Charlie Nic provides another amazing performance. Hilarious, with the OCD and all. 5 stars
12/30/04 R.W. Welch Too contrived for its own good, but manages to be entertaining enough. 3 stars
11/27/04 Monday Morning Stylish & well done but why did Nic choose that particular psychiatrist? A real stretch. 4 stars
11/12/04 Phil M. Aficionado Loses one star for some "stretches", but very entertaining and well done by cast. 4 stars
11/02/04 Marc Tebo Great movie all around...How did Cage & Lohman not get nominated?? Wonderfully acted!! 5 stars
10/23/04 ODH Its OK, but the ending while good does leave some loose ends 3 stars
9/26/04 VIctor Cage needs career counseling; his everyman stunts are getting tiresome like all his movies 1 stars
9/24/04 Agent Sands One of the greatest con movies ever made. Either flawless or nearly so. Never gets old. 5 stars
9/14/04 Shams Huque Damn good! Cage is great as always. 5 stars
9/06/04 jmsynth Whether you love or hate the ending, this is something of a must-see 4 stars
7/24/04 chandrasekar cage rocks with his performance 4 stars
6/06/04 Ry Good Movie, nice ending. 4 stars
6/03/04 Agent Sands Thumbs way up!!! Nic Cage seems to really like these neurotic types, & Ridley diversifies. 5 stars
5/04/04 Paul This is an interesting twist on a con movie 5 stars
4/11/04 alan this was supposed to be a comedy, right? 3 stars
4/09/04 teresa brown i loved it 5 stars
3/13/04 Rebecca I must have missed something here 3 stars
3/11/04 jimmy two times great littlle big film. very touching. surprised me in how good it was. 5 stars
3/09/04 ownerofdajoint what a great flick!! 5 stars
3/06/04 Jaco Visser A really intelligent and "something-between-the-ears" film! Congrats! 5 stars
3/06/04 Helen Bradley Cage is great excellent film script acting 5 stars
3/04/04 Star-Crosser Resfreshing and character-driven. Ranks among Scott's best. 5 stars
2/26/04 Ben Ziegler Cage is superb, Rockwell is Rockwell and Lohman is frickin adorable. Clever and cool. 4 stars
12/02/03 Brianna omg! it was so good, 5 stars
10/29/03 zeb woodhatch a twist to knoch your socks off 4 stars
10/19/03 greg Bad con film, Great character study! 3 stars
10/13/03 John Bale Twitchy Cage & quirky Lohman excell in this compassionate story with a sting in the tail. 5 stars
10/06/03 Doc Hollywood I agree Allison Lohman acted Nick Cage off the stage. Slow start but enjoyable. 4 stars
10/02/03 Bill Cumberson Allison Lohman steals the show 4 stars
9/27/03 Quizical A very good movie until the last 10 minutes when everything turns very lame. 3 stars
9/27/03 Mr. Hat An absolute hands-down major fucking masterpiece up until the last 10 minutes. 4 stars
9/24/03 jawsboy24 Not bad. Cage does a great job! Lohman is also great! Rockwell rocks!! Not bad. Good acting 4 stars
9/22/03 Titus Fun movie, nice to see Cage doing some acting. 4 stars
9/22/03 Josh Fun and engaging; Cage is fantastic. 4 stars
9/19/03 Tom good acting; plenty of twists 4 stars
9/18/03 Superdave i loved this movie, fuckin outstanding 5 stars
9/16/03 david i liked it 4 stars
9/14/03 Benjamin Leatherman First two-thirds are good, then it descends into maudlin and tedium 3 stars
9/06/03 Hart so clever and funny, As Good As It Gets meets Ocean 11 5 stars
9/06/03 Michelle stylish, quirky, and fun. the acting is awesome. 5 stars
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  12-Sep-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Feb-2004



Directed by
  Ridley Scott

Written by
  Ted Griffin
  Nick Griffin

  Nicolas Cage
  Sam Rockwell
  Alison Lohman
  Bruce Altman
  Bruce McGill
  Fran Kranz

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