Matchstick Men review by Tom Blain

Mamet-esque, done well

Matchstick Men is a movie about self-discovery and selflessness wrapped inside of a cool little con flick. Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) is a con man who's attention to detail makes him a very good con. It also drives him to the point where he needs psychiatric help for his obcessive compulsivness. He and his partner/buddy, Frank (Sam Rockwell) spend their day in their pseudo-office running short-cons; quick two-hour con jobs that pay the bills. Roy has cashed in for a number of years and is close to "retirement", while Frank is still looking forward to his first big score

After accidentally disposing of his supply of brain balancing pills, Roy seeks the help of a psychiatrist; at first just for a junky refill, then later for serious help. Along the way we learn Roy has a young daughter (Alison Lohman) who he eventually meets for the first time, and suddenly his life is given new meaning. The daughter, Angela, is no angel herself (just more aguement genetics vs. behaviorists) and we witness a number of dark yet touching scenes as they bond through a series of con lessons. In the meantime, Roy's partner Frank puts together an elaborate con to rip off a wealthy money-launderer. As expected, following the discovery of his new parental responsibilties, Roy wants to make this his last con, so he can set a good example for his already deviant, yet sweet daughter. And so the con begins...

The hardest part about watching Matchstick Men is the feeling you get at the end when you realize you have seen it all before. The movie follows a David Mamet con formula right down to the very last twist and turn. Since Mamet's House of Games the industry has become saturated with movies trying to dupe the audience and show us something we didn't expect. The problem is many audiences have probably already wised up to these tricks and are more likely to guess the ending fifteen minutes before the film reaches the point where the director hopes the everybody in the theatre is confused out of their skulls.

Luckily, what sets it apart from the Mamet films is its attention to character. Where Mamet moves his pawns around, in hopes to trap another pawn, Scotts film brings out the personalities of the bishops, rooks, and knights. Cage's character is deeply complex. His guilt for leaving his daughter before she was born, coupled with the guilt of a profession that rips innocent people off, has turned him into a paranoid, obcessive man, with a house as hollow as his soul. In this movie, Cage, in true Cage form, lays it on pretty thick, but its easy to look past it given the up tempo directing style. Ridley Scott does a good job of aligning the camera with Cage's neurotic state of mind, so we never notice awkward moments of Cage flipping out. Throughout the film his character is slowly transformed into a normal functioning human as his daughter becomes closer and closer to him. Alison Lohman delivers big with a great adolescent presence. She is true to the role as a troubled, misguided yet bubbly teen, desperately needing a father figure. Sam Rockwell does a fine job as well, better than the last con-movie I saw him in, Mamet's Heist. His character has an outgoing messy personality that clashes humorously with the neat-freak personality of Cage.

The story itself doesn't open any new doors, or spring too many new suprises on you. If you missed Spanish Prisoner, House of Games, and Heist then it might be a revelation for you. Luckily there is more to Matchstick Men than clever tricks of the trade. Overall, Matchstick Men fun enough to warrant a theatre visit, especially in this dry movie year.




7 out of 10 Jackasses
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