Matchstick Men

on September 12, 2003 by Francesca Dinglasan
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In a film focusing on the elaborate techniques used by con men to deceive their victims, seasoned moviegoers are sure to suspect from the beginning that "Matchstick Men" is setting them up for a grandiose trick ending. It is to director Ridley Scott's and screenwriters Nicholas and Ted Griffin's credit, then, that, despite audience expectation, the movie effectively delivers its surprising--if somewhat implausible--punch.

The Matchstick Men in question are veteran trickster Roy (Nicolas Cage) and his eager apprentice Frank (Sam Rockwell). Concerned that the increasing frequency of his mentor's neurotic tics is interfering with their small-time con work, Frank insists that Roy see a psychologist. Through the course of his treatment, Roy is convinced to delve back into his past and find out if an abandoned ex-girlfriend ended up having his child. The answer is 14-year-old Angela (Alison Lohman), who progressively captivates her aloof father's heart and convinces him to share some of the secrets of his trade with her. Roy's newfound paternal instincts, however, cause him to rethink his profession, especially in light of his daughter's growing interest in it. But before Roy can start over as an honest man, he makes the commitment to Frank to pull off one last, lucrative heist, which gets dangerously complicated by Angela's involvement.

Cage has built his career on embodying eccentricity, and there's an immediate threat of quirk overdose in casting him in the role of an obsessive-compulsive in "Matchstick Men." What grounds the film is the affectionate relationship that credibly forms between himself and Lohman, who comes off impressively in her sophomore acting effort. Rockwell's performance as a calm and steady swindler also stabilizes the over-the-top tendencies hoisted on to Cage's manic crook-turned-loving-dad.

With the exception of some crime film aficionados who will claim they saw the ending from a mile away, audiences should by and large be satisfied that they got their money's worth with the film's unexpected denouement. But figuring out the ending is only half the fun, anyway; watching a master helmer like Scott navigate through the twists and turns of "Matchstick Men" is really the more interesting journey. Starring Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman and Bruce McGill. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Nicholas Griffin and Ted Griffin. Produced by Jack Rapke, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey, Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language. Running time: 117 min

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