Matchstick Men Review
Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men opened in Venice 2003 ahead of its US and UK release. Showing out of competition, the flashy crime caper was well-received and provided some light relief from the debate and controversy of the main film festival balancing humour, tension and some moments of quiet reflection.
Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage) is a small-time confidence trickster. Working with his friend Frank (Sam Rockwell), they sell $50 water-filtration systems for a high mark-up, but are really looking for the opportunity to pull-off something big. Roy however has serious behavioural problems, an obsessive-compulsive disorder for cleanliness and order and acute agoraphobia – a condition which gets worse when he runs out of medication. His psychiatrist, Dr Klein (Bruce Altman), suspects that the root of Roy’s problem lies in a failed marriage and guilt over a 14 year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman) that he has never seen. Reconciled with Angela, he tries to come to terms with this newfound parenthood, teaching her a few minor confidence tricks. When the opportunity arises to pull off a major scam with a business financier, Roy has to choose whether to risk involving Angela further or being a responsible father.
Thus far the film is predictable sub-Spielberg cuteness - a blend of Leon and Catch Me If You Can - a comparison underlined by the retro-look photography and a summery-smooth Sinatra soundtrack. If that were all there were to the film it would be very bland indeed and the plot does appear to be running out of steam two-thirds into the film. Scott does his best to keep the subject interesting, with some jump-cut edits and sped-up photography reflecting Roy’s nervous energy, but it is not until the latter third that the film finds its feet with some nail-biting situations and plot twists.
The performances from the cast are tremendous. Cage is fortunate again to find a perfect role for his exaggerated gestures and edgy delivery, demonstrating a nervous energy that erupts into loud outbursts and facial twitches and tics. Sam Rockwell provides excellent support and Alison Lohman is a marvel, thoroughly captivating and charming as Roy’s 14 year-old daughter.
There are failings - the two hour running time is barely justified by the third act and some of the plot devices require a suspension of disbelief, but Scott, like the consummate confidence trickster, draws you into this rosy scenario with sleight of hand before pulling the rug from under your feet. The director knows that the audience is a victim in waiting and if you are willing to be led, Matchstick Men certainly delivers on its promise.