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Movie Review:
Matchstick Men
By Matt Singer


One of my favorite movies is The Sting, and Iím certain it has something to do with my fascination with con men. Thereís something very cool, and maybe even a little appealing, about the lifestyle, the attitude, of people who can essentially convince people to give them money. Movie audiences are always willing to get behind a lovable scoundrel and that certainly describes the Paul Newman / Robert Redford characters in The Sting. Ridley Scott and screenwriters Nicholas and Ted Griffin put the con man figure to somewhat different use in their new Matchstick Men, which is often quite entertaining, a bit thin in certain elements (particularly the ending), and very intriguing in the ways it maintains and strays from the old con genre formulas.

The paternal aging expert of this equation is Roy (Nicholas Cage), a gifted grifter who has (by my count): obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, facial tics, and Tourettes. Heís barely holding it together, and when it starts to affect his job performance, Royís partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) sends him to a shrink. There Roy reveals a past that includes a marriage and, possibly, a child. With the psychiatristís help, Roy meets Angela (Alison Lohman) who is unwelcome at first, but naturally begins to grow on the big lug. This professional versus personal theme plays out over Royís growing troubles staying a conman (He tells everyone heís in antiques) and learning how to be a father to his daughter.

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It sounds so cheesy, a guy with all these emotional problems meeting the child he never knew he had and suddenly hopping on the fast road to recovery. More than that, it IS cheesy, but Scottís direction, the peppery script by the Brothers Griffin, and some very good lead performances keep the tone far cooler than it deserves to be. The visuals lean on the obvious side, but I did enjoy how perspective shots are given the staccato rhythm of Royís OCD habits. The soundtrack, despite its echoes of Oceanís 11 (also from a Ted Griffin script), swings along perfectly and gives the film a nice out of time feel.

Beyond that, I admit Iím unsure of how I feel about certain elements. Unquestionably, Matchstick Men is different than your typical con men movie. And while that shouldnít necessarily be a bad thing, I canít help but feel that when the things to become a bit more conventional - like a scene where Roy teaches Angela a grift - the movie gets a whole lot more enjoyable. Then again, some of the more serious stuff is not without its merits, particularly the Lohman performance, which is utterly convincing in its portrayal of a depressed outsider of a fourteen year old (In reality, Lohman is in her twenties). On the other hand, the ending is a mess of elements that really work and others that absolutely donít. Not to mention that I got a handle on most of the surprise twists well before they were revealed.

Itís rare that Iím this conflicted over a movie. Generally, itís pretty obvious to me (and hopefully you) whether I liked a film and would recommend it. That is not the case with Matchstick Men, though another viewing might shore up some of my hunches about the materialís flaws. Certainly though this is no The Sting. Go to Matchstick Men at your own risk, but if you want guaranteed quality, George Roy Hillís got your hookup.


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