September 1, 2002
Ridley Scott, ,
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Jenny O'Hara, Steve Eastin, Beth Grant, Sheila Kelley, Fran Kranz, Tim Kelleher, Nigel Gibbs, Bill Saito, Tim Maculan, Stoney Westmoreland, ,
Con-artists Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell find their biggest scam in danger when Cage’s 14-year-old daughter arrives on the scene.
Director Ridley Scott usually favours big flamboyant blockbusters, so it was an odd choice for him to take the reigns on such a small-scale drama about two con-men looking to hit the big time. But then, Scott has always been one to shift tone from film to film: G.I Jane, Gladiator and Hannibal couldn’t be more different from each other. But the success of Thelma and Louise proved he could do straight drama and Matchstick Men confirms his skill with intimate character pieces.
Cage is neurotic Roy, a twitchy obsessive-compulsive who would make Melvin from As Good As It Gets nervous. An experienced, if small-time con-artist, he and his loud-mouth partner Frank (Rockwell) make their living by ripping off greedy house-wives and old ladies. So when Frank lines up a big score in the form of a gullable banker, Roy is in two minds. He’s happy with the routine he has.
Having to visit a new shrink in order to get a new perscription, Roy ends up discussing his ex-wife and how she was pregnant when they parted. The child would be fourteen years old now, and he starts to wonder about what might have been. He finds said daughter Angela (the outstanding Lohman – 24 playing 14) and before he knows it she’s staying the night at his house. Roy’s life is turned upside-down, and things aren’t helped when feisty Angela realises his real job and wants him to teach her the ropes.
By choosing to focus more on the characters than the cons themselves, we get to know these as people rather well. Foremost it’s a comedy – Cage is at his twitchy, shouty best. A scene where he runs out of pills and dashes to a pharmacy in a blind panic is hilarious. Rockwell doesn’t get many scenes, but he’s one of those actors you can’t take your eyes off for a moment; witness Frank arriving at Roy’s pristine house eating a sandwich and spilling crumbs all over the floor, much to Roy’s horror. But the real acting honours go to Alison Lohman, who doesn’t merely play fourteen – she’s so good, she IS fourteen. Even Ridley Scott sometimes forgot her real age on set and would ask her if her parents where coming to pick her up.
Matchstick Men was the undeniable sleeper hit of last year (it came and went at the cinema with nary a whisper), and one of the best films you’re likely to stumble upon this year. It screams class, from the snazzy Sinatra soundtrack and slick suits, to the neon-hued photography and eccentric editing. Some may feel let down by the ending, but Scott knows the bonding of Angela and Roy is what counts and in this regard he’s right on the money.
Like the film itself, the bonus features on display here are slick and to the point. You get a sixty-minute documentary split into three sections – Pre-production, Production and Post-production – which follows Scott from casting the movie, through to costumes and actually shooting the movie. “He’s mellowed as a director,” one crew-member remarks, regarding the director’s fiery history, only for Scott to go through the roof when a camera jams during a great scene with the actors. This is great, informative stuff, and none of the usual Hollywood luvvy soundbites are anywhere to be seen.
As well as the trailer, we get a great commentary by Scott and the writers Ted and Nicolas Griffin (based on Eric Garcia’s novel), who talk about the films’ gestation and what scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Scott is in his element here and points out little details you probably missed, but which add to the little quirks of the characters.
This is an outstanding movie from start to finish, and it’s sad that it slipped under the radar at the box-office.