Retro Review: Matchstick Men

One of the more interesting and fun genres of film have to be the “grifter” or “con-man” film. The genre’s pinnacle and appeal was probably solidified with George Roy Hill’s magnificent film, “The Sting”.

It was slick, polished and so very clever. As the genre progressed we have had more recent classic con-films such as “The Grifters” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”.

Even in recent years other notable con-films have been “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Heist”, “The Score” and “The Good Thief” which have left their mark with film-goers. Some were good and some mediocre.

This brings us to the latest grifter film which stars Nicolas Cage as highly phobic con-artist Roy. It seems that Roy and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) have a huge problem, Roy’s consistent phobic ticks.

Frank suggests that Roy seek out a psychiatrist when he unexpectedly loses his medication to keep his phobias at bay. Roy soon discovers that there is more to his problem than he thought and it all could have to do with his long-lost daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman).

Just when Roy begins to reconnect with his daughter, Frank sets up the biggest cons of their long careers. With his new found confidence, Roy figures he can manage both his new budding relationship his daughter and the giant scheme. Is it to much too soon for Roy and will he be able to keep his ailments controlled in both stressful situations? Only time will tell.

Great modern director Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men” is once more a chameleon move in his bold, adaptable career. Scott is able to house a lot of the power in this film within the characters without relying on quick pans and suspense-filled lingering. Scott is quite restrained but gets an amazing performance from his star, Nicolas Cage.

Cage’s performance is the crowning achievement of the film.

Like what he accomplished with his Academy Award winning role in “Leaving Las Vegas”, Cage is able to bring himself securely within the skin of this unbalanced character.

Cage is so perfect in his ability to bring forth twitches, mannerisms and attitude that actuates Roy. It is one of the best performances of his career.

The screenplay was sculpted by brothers, Ted and Nicolas Griffin, who adapted the film from the Eric Garcia novel. Ted Griffin also worked on “Ocean’s Eleven”. The Griffin’s screenplay captures a lot the grifter style and the conflicts within Cage’s character but the film’s third act can leave an audience very cold. There is no huge payoff or “sting” as the whole film winds down. I would hope that the novel had a lot more in its final moments than displayed here. I wanted so much more.

I have always been a very strong supporter of Nicolas Cage and director Ridley Scott but this film left me a little flat. You would hope that with such great ingredients that this would be a clever and exciting con-movie. It could have been so much better.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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