Matchstick Men (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/08/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 119 mins

Stylishly directed, well-written and boasting an eclectic soundtrack, this is an enjoyable con flick with both Cage and Ridley Scott on top form.

There is something clearly fascinating about watching con artists on screen - maybe it's the thrill of seeing characters live by their wits under the constant threat of being caught (as in Catch Me If You Can) or perhaps, given that 99% of con movies pull some kind of trick on the audience, it's the opportunity to prove youself 'cleverer' than the film-makers by guessing the plot in advance.

At any rate, there have been a string of decent con flicks lately, from the sublime Nine Queens to, more recently, the average but entertaining Confidence. Matchstick Men, then, is director Ridley Scott's spin on familiar material (it was dubbed 'Paper Moon in colour' on set, after the Ryan & Tatum O'Neal father-daughter con classic) and although it is primarily concerned with character, it's safe to say that you'll enjoy the story a lot more if you strap yourself in and enjoy (being taken for) the ride rather than trying to second guess it.

Obsessive-Compulsive Agoraphobe Needs Counselling

Nicolas Cage plays Roy, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe (and chain-smoker) who makes a living as a con artist with his younger partner Frank (The Great Sam Rockwell). Barely able to keep his neuroses in check, Roy flips out mid-con and Frank persuades him to get therapy.

This leads to the revelation that Roy has a 14 year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), whose existence he always suspected but never dared verify. What's more, Angela wants to get to know him and when she discovers what Roy does for a living she's keen for him to show her the ropes, even though her presence could seriously derail Frank and Roy's latest scam...

Matchstick Men (the title, like The Grifters,, refers to a slang term for con artists) is extremely well directed - it's stylish but never in-your-face stylish and shows Scott back on top form after the relative disappointments of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down.

Terrific Soundtrack

It also has a terrific, carefuly-selected, character-enhancing soundtrack that consists mainly of lounge classics (e.g Beyond the Sea) but occasionally strikes an eclectic, off-the-wall note, such as the inclusion of George Formby's Leaning on a Lamp-post when Roy is waiting for Angela.

The acting is excellent - Cage, with his Felix Unger-like collection of tics and mannerisms manages to be funny as well as heart-breakingly sympathetic. His confused mixture of guilt, pride, horror and joy when Angela shows a flair for the con game is a priceless, lovely moment.

Lohman is superb too - she's both adorable and believably natural. There's also great support from both Sam Rockwell (always a joy to watch) and one of Hollywood's best character actors, Bruce McGill, as the proposed victim of Frank and Roy's latest con.

In short, this is an enjoyable, frequently funny and oddly moving con thriller with a terrific performance from Cage. If you've ever seen a con man movie before you won't be surprised by the ending but it's hard to complain when the ride is this much fun. Recommended.

Film Trailer

Matchstick Men (12A)
Matchstick Men has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 21/09/2018 10:53

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