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Matchstick Men Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/14/2003

Ridley Scott is arguably one of the best directors in the last 25 years.  From 1977’s The Duellists to 2001’s Blackhawk Down, he has mainly specialized in action-oriented films.  What made him decide to make a relatively tame film now?  I bet he did it just to see if he could.  Did he pull it off?  With Matchstick Men, I believe he did.


Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) is a very talented and successful con man.  He also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia.  He has to close every door three times, chain smokes, only seems to eat tuna, and has several face tics.  He always gets in the same line at the grocery store, manned by Kathy (Sheila Kelley), a woman he is attracted to there.  Most of his problems seem to be helped by medication.  He and his partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell), are currently swindling people out of money by making them think they will get a tax break by buying a $50 water filtration system for hundreds of dollars, and then pretending to be a FTC agent to get their bank account numbers.  One day, Roy accidentally dumps his bottle of pills down the sink, which traps him mentally in his house for a week.  Frank gets frustrated trying to reach Roy on the phone, so he comes over and suggests that Roy see a psychiatrist.  Roy reluctantly agrees to meet with Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) just to get his prescription filled.  The doctor won’t give him any pills until he goes through therapy sessions.  It is during one of these sessions that Klein finds out that Roy was once married and possibly the father of a 14-year-old child.  Roy asks Klein to call his ex-wife (Melora Walters) to find out for sure, which he does, confirming that he has a daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman.)  Roy and Angela arrange to meet, and surprisingly Angela takes to him quickly.  He is also surprised at how much he enjoys being a dad.  She soon finds out what he does for a living and insists that he teach her how to do it.  She is a natural, which makes for a weird bond between the two.  Roy normally doesn’t like to do the “long con” (a con that takes more than a day, but pays a lot more), but his new happiness convinces him to accept Frank’s proposal to do one involving a currency exchange with a businessman named Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill.)  As his love grows for his daughter, so does his concern that including her in his profession might put her in danger.


Why do I think Scott did a tame movie successfully?  It was because I found the movie funny, well written, well acted, and with an end that actually surprised and touched me.  Cage might possibly be looking at another Oscar nomination.  I’d like to see Rockwell get a nod for Best Supporting Actor to make up for being robbed last year for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but his part might be just a little bit too small.  The 23-year-old Lohman is a newer face, but she did a great job playing a 14-year-old.  The end after the big “surprise” was revealed is lengthy but satisfying.  It so easily could have ruined everything that led up to it, but it didn’t.  Much less to say, I left the theater with a smile on my face.

Whether or not Scott made Matchstick Men to get out of the action genre he had been pigeonholed in, the movie turned out great.  I would welcome another movie of a tamer nature from the man who made Alien anytime.  Maybe it will save us from another G.I. Jane.

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