September 17, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 11  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Matchstick Men a diabolically clever winner


Matchstick Men

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman
Directed by: Ridley Scott

By Anthony Turow
Gazette Staff

The title Matchstick Men refers to con artists ã those skilled in the art of bilking an unsuspecting mark out of their money on the strength of sheer confidence. A con artist would assert they don't take somebody's money, but rather have it given to them. Rest assured, any viewer should gladly hand over their money for this film and they most certainly won't feel as though they've been duped.

Matchstick Men is a film that works on three levels. Primarily, it focuses on Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage), an agoraphobic, obsessive compulsive con artist and his protþgþ Frank (Sam Rockwell). Secondly, it's a film about the relationship between Roy and his 14 year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), whom he just found out he had. And finally, it centers around a scam Roy and Frank are in the process of pulling off.

Every aspect of this movie impresses. What will probably draw the most attention are the wonderful performances. Cage is astonishing. His performance is a true actor's showcase and he nails it ã he's every bit as good here as he was in Leaving Las Vegas, his Oscar-winning role. In spite of all his ticks and loopy behaviour, Cage's Roy feels authentic. His quirks and odd mannerisms don't feel forced or showy, but genuine because we get to understand the impetus for his large number of afflictions.

Lohman is also superb in a rather complex performance that combines the characteristics of a na´ve youth with a master manipulator. She holds her own with Cage in every scene they share, proving her strong performance in last year's White Oleander was no fluke.

Rockwell is also quite good in the role that's the most understated among the leads. It would be easy to overlook him, in light of the more flamboyant roles of his co-stars, but that would be unfair. He hits the mark by portraying Frank as an average, everyday con man who fails to see the art in his profession, preferring a more pragmatic point-of-view. As he says to Roy: "You've got enough money to retire off this, but me? I've still got to worry about car payments."

The direction of the movie is also exceptional. Ridley Scott takes a break from directing testosterone fests such as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down to direct a film that is as cool and understated as those films were loud and overblown. Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra music dominates the soundtrack, dictating its breezy pace and complementing its inventive editing. Scott's trademark slickness is still present, but it never interferes with the human elements of the story.

Finally, praise must be heaped on Nicholas and Ted Griffin for their fine adaptation of Eric Garcia's book. The screenplay is the lynchpin of any great movie and this one is funny, literate and diabolically clever.
The only problem some may have with the film is an ending that may seem overly contrived. However, after much deliberation I've thought it over and simply can't discredit the film as a whole because of it. Gee, I hope I haven't been conned.

 

 

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