Published Sep 01, 2003It's difficult to show any fondness toward Roy Waller; a man who's making a comfortable living as a con-artist preying on the weak is a difficult character to warm up to. After sitting through an unbearable scene where Roy and his partner in crime, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell), pose as detectives trying to crack down on their scam with an unsuspecting couple, you can't help but hate the lead character of this film. Whether you choose to forgive Roy for all his wrongdoing as the credits roll is not the issue though, as Matchstick Men is a test of your own gullibility and it's not wise to allow any of the characters involved to get too close to your heart.
Roy (Nicolas Cage) has a severe obsessive compulsive disorder and suffers from numerous anxiety attacks. How he's able to keep his slick composure swindling people out of thousands of dollars is incredible, seeing as he freaks out if anyone steps on his perfect carpet with their shoes on. When his illegal drug prescriptions keeping him from falling off the edge run out, he is forced to see a new psychiatrist. Through these sessions Roy divulges everything about his personal life, including the fact that he was once married and there's a chance that his wife had a baby shortly after they had split up. After some convincing, Roy agrees to meet up with his 14-year-old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) and soon she becomes an unexpected part of his very structured life.
Through his daughter, Roy slowly begins to enjoy life again. At one point he confesses to his shrink that he had thoughts of blowing out his brains but was worried about the mess it would leave on his carpet. Now he's adapted more to Angela's wilder ways; coming out of his shell in order to make the bond with her stronger. He even begins teaching her small con jobs that she takes to naturally, leading up to her last-minute involvement with a scheme on a much larger scale.
Ridley Scott trades in gladiators and special-effects for a more stripped down filmmaking opportunity. The shots are beautiful and the editing techniques work extremely well, giving the viewer the sense of what it's like to be Roy while he suffers yet another bout with anxiety. With Adaptation and now Matchstick Men under his belt, Cage seems to be getting his career back on track and landing the roles he should have been doing all along, rather than following-up the amazing Raising Arizona with brain dead action flicks and romantic comedies. The real star of this film is Alison Lohman though, who at 24-years of age plays an extremely convincing teenager and completely nails the role set out for Angela.
Matchstick Men looks beautiful on the screen, with all the grand cinematography you would expect from a director such as Ridley Scott. It's a clever story with all the twists and turns bound to come with a script based around the life of a con-artist. The film works well as a deadpan comedy and also delivers as a thriller in the closing moments; similar to what Roy's life must feel like, where just as you begin to get comfortable with your surroundings, something ultimately sets off a wave of frustration and panic. In the end you're left to replay the film in your head and re-examine what you thought you saw, only to realise you too might have fallen victim to a scheme. (Warner)