Cast & Crew info:
Produced by Sean
Bailey, Giannina Facio, Ted Griffin, Jack Rapke, Charles J.D.
Schlissel, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis;
Directed by Ridley Scott; Screenwritten by Nicholas
and Ted Griffin; based on the novel by Eric Garcia
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual
content and language; Running Time - 116 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
September 12, 2003
by DAVID KEYES
ol' Roy just hasn't got a clue. A man married to his work
is bound not to have much of a personal life, but when the
person in question is actually a very successful manipulator
and con artist, you'd expect him or her to have some kind
of free time to spend on developing social skills. So is
not the case with this reclusive dude, however; aside from
being an incessant neat freak who obsesses over the slightest
possibility of germs contaminating his environment, he's
short-fused, pigheaded and outwardly pitiful to himself
and to all those who cross his path. And yet we admire him
anyway, because once you peel away the hypertensive demeanor
and most of those erratic impulses of his, you have a sweet,
charming and lovable guy living underneath. It's not everyday
you find yourself rooting for the con man.
the center of Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men,"
Roy supplies the opportunity to view all these facades from
several different angles and through many significant subplots.
He is played by Nicholas Cage, an actor whose diversity
and energy make him suitable for almost any role with quirks.
In fact, during the movie's opening sequence in which our
hero preps for a busy day by cleaning his abode in a Joan
Crawford-like sense of anal retentiveness, Cage's approach
is subtle and realistic enough to feel appropriate for a
screen persona of this flavor. It becomes obvious much later
on that no one else could have probably done a better job
in the role, too.
movie opens with lots of character establishment, but it
certainly doesn't forget to send us directly into a sizable
story, either. Roy, the aforementioned con artist with a
significant struggle as a human being, is riding high and
proud after he and his partner in crime, the blunt Frank
Mercer (Sam Rockwell), successfully pull off their latest
illegal stunt by screwing an elderly couple out of hundreds
of dollars without so much as breaking a sweat. Unfortunately
for the big man himself, however, he has to take medication
in order to remain halfway coherent, and when he accidentally
knocks his bottle of pills down the sink drain, he is forced
to set up a meeting with a psychiatrist for mental evaluation.
This, in turn, sets off a change of events that will lead
Roy out of his bubble and into reality, one of the most
important life-altering events being the discovery that
he is a father to a teenage girl. Could the same man who
is afraid to step on his own carpet while wearing shoes
ever hope to have any kind of relationship with the kid
he never knew existed, though?
but that's part of the undeniable charm of "Matchstick
Men," a film that is genuine, sweet, strongly acted
and well written at a time when such qualities are virtually
nonexistent at the local multiplex. This is the kind of
movie that lifts the spirit and flaunts the charm around
like an old personal friend, and as such it is also filled
with moments of drama, tension and tragedy that complicate
the flow but inevitably add to the plot dynamics. In the
end, we can't exactly say that the time spent with these
characters has been perfect, but the result is genuine enough
for us to bypass any quibbles we might have had during observation.
It's not even a challenge to say that this film is almost
an equal cinematic triumph to Cage's last vehicle, Spike
Jones' innovative "Adaptation."
secret to the picture's success lies not in the fact that
it has several distinctive (and solid) subplots popping
up at every turn, but in the fact that it cares enough about
character relationships to put everything else aside for
a time. Roy's connection to his daughter Angela, played
expertly here by Alison Lohman, begins in a manner that
we expect it towith a sense of unease and awkward
tension between the two obvious oppositesbut rather
than allowing the script to overly emphasize differences,
it allows both characters the chance to get to know each
other and learn to tolerate those quirks and oddities. What
were once two strangers eventually become very close-knit
family members, so much so that Roy actually feels obligated
to let his own daughter become part of his con team, even
though deep down he knows how wrong it is to expose a kid
of that age to any kind of dangerous illegal activity.
script by Nicholas and Ted Griffin is a great compliment
to the on-screen energy exemplified by its lead stars, as
the various plots are developed, focused and know exactly
how to handle a situation when it crosses difficult territory.
One scene in particular towards the end, involving an unexpected
confrontation between Roy and a person who hurt him dearly,
is especially well donethere are probably countless
directions this particular scene could have gone and various
emotions it could have implored, but rather than being patronizing
or too harsh on its characters, the delivery is subtle and
yet satisfying, sad but at the same time uplifting. A clean,
happy ending is not what we get with "Matchstick Men";
what we get instead is an unconventional turn of events
that leave us shocked, disheartened... and yet optimistic.
Easily the most distinctive character study seen at the
theater in a long time, this is also one of the year's only
theatrical achievements brave enough to realize that being
conventional is only one way of creating story closure.
© 2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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