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 Matchstick Men
 Critic's Rating
   [B]
 Date Posted
   2nd March, 2004
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Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman
Director: Ridley Scott

We have had our fair share of con-themed thrillers over the past decade or so, each of them culminating in a twist of proceedings right at the end that tends to put a retrospective view on everything that precedes it. While the genre might seem saturated with an influx of increasingly unimaginative plotlines, it hasn't yet lost the ability to entertain. The typical con flick slants towards elaboration of panache while ensuring that the ride never ceases to enchant. In this respect, Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men manages to fit the bill quite nicely.

Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage) is a professional conman - a con-artist, in the way he likes to be addressed. He and his young and hustling protégé, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) have accumulated a small fortune with the help of their own private swindling syndicate – conning people out of their money in an utterly professional manner. That's about as good as it gets for Roy who suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Agoraphobia. After accidentally flushing down his medication, he reluctantly agrees to visit psychiatrist Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman). He soon discovers that he has a 14 year old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) with his ex-wife. Complications set in when she decides to meet him and step into his meticulously organized life. It's not long before she discovers what he actually is and soon enough she begins to learn the trades of a con-artist. However, incorporating her into his latest scheme lands him into more than just a fine mess.

Scott's knack of delivering captivation solely through his camera hasn't been lost at all, here displaying his artistic finesse in comedy as well – of the darkly humoristic variety. Partly owing to the skillful adaptation of Eric Garcia's book, Matchstick Men delivers the story at such a fine pace that it does a terrific job in masking the inconsistencies of the plot. Cage has the capability of putting the likes of Woody Allen to shame with his neurotic portrayals. Playing the part of Roy would hardly have stretched his appeal. Nevertheless, his performance stands out quite emphatically and the emotional attachment that one feels towards his character is testament to this. Lohman does seem over the top at times, but this shortcoming hides behind the silhouette of the teenager she portrays. Sam Rockwell is abounding in quirkiness and does a fantastic job in the modest screen time that he gets. He is too good an actor to play second fiddle to big stars. Besides the acting, Scott keeps things simple and adequate on the technical front but does include clever edits and erratic angles to visually probe into Roy's phobic self.

The most telling drawback of Matchstick Men lies in the source material itself. With a complete lack of intricacy, the novel makes the movie too "soft" to exalt and too predictable to surprise. Scott's refusal to incorporate red herrings of any kind seems to be as much an error as his decision to extend the novel's ending.

Despite this, Matchstick Men does its job in being a terrific entertainer. The fact that it doesn't add value to the genre can only be regretted. - Snider Rodrigues

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