Matchstick Men (2003)
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A light, delicate, well managed thriller sporting outstanding performances from its three leads. Matchstick Men may deviate from Ridley Scott’s genre sweet spot, nonetheless is proof of Scott’s ability to handle a variety of themes. Never having an issue keeping the attention of its audience through a paced, yet deliberate build to a clever, heart wrenching finale. Matchstick Men might be a tad predictable and sentimental in its delivery, but not so much as to hamper its psychological advantage. Reaping the benefits of its lulling nature and jolting the viewer with heavy doses of harsh realities and unforeseen twists. Matchstick Men never takes itself too seriously which would usually be a death sentence for most thrillers. But Scott and company manage to obtain the best of both sides. Starring Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Lohman. Matchstick Men’s cast are as absurd as they are grounded, which is a terrific mix for a film of this caliber.
Roy (Cage) is a con artist living in Los Angeles. Working with his protege Frank (Rockwell), the two own and operate a fake lottery, selling water filtration systems to vulnerable victims. Roy suffers from a variety of mental illnesses such as OCD, agoraphobia, and an aggressive tic disorder. Roy eventually attends therapy and receives medication in return for his visits. During a session, Roy unveils information about a past relationship and the possibility of him being a father. When Roy convinces his therapist to contact his past lover, he learns his has a 14 year old daughter named Angela (Lohman). Just as Angela and Roy start to conduct a meaningful relationship, an opportunity arises to con a wealthy businessman out of a lot of money.
The story may be foreseeable to an extent. However, Matchstick Men separates itself from the litter of horrifically cliched psychological thrillers with unfathomable emotional depth and a criminally artistic muse portrayed by exceedingly loveable cons. Ridley Scott takes a break from shooting the vastness of space and ancient ruins to remain in place on Earth. Although the plot is still relatively uncommon and extravagant. The core of it is something sensible and every viewer can empathize with. Whether you’re dealing with parenting issues, mental illness, or self preservation, Scott manages to extract the human element in an inhumane story. Scott’s terrific filming and camera techniques mastered to capture large scale cinema transfers to the simplicity of struggling to comprehend reality.
Nicolas Cage perhaps gives the performance of his career with his lead roles in Adaptation being the closest comparison. Cage portrays a severely delusional con artist suffering from extensive OCD and loneliness. Every twitch, tweak, and repetition is carefully calculated and delivered with impeccable timing. What is truly remarkable about his portrayal of this socially challenged individual is the authenticity he brings to the role. It’s nice to see Sam Rockwell somewhat break free of his typical roles to inhabit the body of the antagonist for Matchstick Men. There is something about his mannerisms that always seems to draw the viewers attention to him, he acts like a magnet. Alison Lohman does an outstanding job capturing the disorientation and angst of a boundless teen hanging on to her sanity by a thread.
With its tremendous cast, incalculable plot, and firm direction from Scott. Matchstick Men is a psychological thriller that should impress even die hard fans of his more ambitious pictures.
Matchstick Men: 8 out of 10.