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Matchstick Men (2003) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • A phobic con artist and his protégé are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the former's teenage daughter arrives unexpectedly.

  • Meet Roy and Frank, a couple of professional small-time con artists. What Roy, a veteran of the grift, and Frank, his ambitious protégé, are swindling these days are "water filtration systems," bargain-basement water filters bought by unsuspecting people who pay ten times their value in order to win bogus prizes like cars, jewelry and overseas vacations--which they never collect. These scams net the flim-flam men a few hundred here, another thousand there, which eventually adds up to a lucrative partnership. Roy's private life, however, is not so successful. An obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe with no personal relationships to call his own, Roy is barely hanging on to his wits, and when his idiosyncrasies begin to threaten his criminal productivity he's forced to seek the help of a psychoanalyst just to keep him in working order. While Roy is looking for a quick fix, his therapy begets more than he bargained for: the revelation that he has a teenage daughter--a child whose existence he suspected but never dared confirm. What's more troubling, 14-year-old Angela wants to meet the father she never knew. At first, Angela's appearance disrupts her neurotic father's carefully ordered routine. Soon, however, with his own unique spin on parenthood, Roy begins to enjoy a relationship he never dreamed of having with his daughter. But while he develops paternal feelings for the 14-year-old, she's developing a fascination with Daddy's questionable career.


Spoilers

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Synopsis

  • Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) is a con artist residing in Los Angeles, California. Alongside his partner and protégé Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell), Roy operates a fake lottery, selling overpriced water filtration systems to unsuspecting customers; in the process, Roy has collected over one million dollars. Roy suffers from several mental disorders, including agoraphobia, mysophobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a tic disorder not to mention the fact that he yells, "Pygmies" whenever something surprises or upsets him. After Roy experiences a violent panic attack, Frank suggests he see a psychiatrist, Dr. Harris Klein (Bruce Altman).

    Klein provides Roy with medication, and in therapy has Roy recall his past relationship with his ex-wife, Heather (Melora Walters), who was pregnant during the time of the divorce. At Roy's behest, Klein informs Roy that he called Heather and found out that Roy has a 14-year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman). Roy and Angela meet and Angela quizzes Roy regarding his life and occupation. Her youthful energy rejuvenates him, and Roy thus agrees to work with Frank on a long-term con: Their target is Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill), an arrogant businessman whom the duo decides to con with the Jamaican Switch.

    One night, Angela unexpectedly arrives at Roy's house, saying that she has had a fight with her mother, and decides to stay for the weekend before returning to school, much to Roy's discomfort. She explores his belongings and causes him to rethink his life, which he mentions during therapy with Klein. Angela returns home late one night, leading to an argument between the two. During dinner, Roy admits that he is a con artist and reluctantly agrees to teach Angela a con. The two of them go to a local laundromat and con an older woman into believing she has won the lottery, and she shares half of her expected winnings with Angela; however, Roy then forces Angela to return the money.

    Roy questions the morality of teaching his daughter such practices, but believes his rejuvenation is a good sign. He then goes bowling with her but is interrupted when Frank reveals that Chuck's flight to the Caymans has been updated to that day instead of Friday as planned. With little time left, Roy reluctantly decides to let Angela play the part of distracting Chuck midway through the con; however, after the con is finished, Chuck realizes what has happened and chases the two into the parking lot before they escape. Roy then learns that Angela was arrested a year ago, and forces her to stop calling him despite the fact that she has bought him a small present as a sign of affection.

    Without Angela, Roy's myriad phobias resurface, and during another panic attack, he ultimately learns that the medication given him by Klein is a placebo, proving that he doesn't actually need his pills to be happy. He decides that he needs Angela in his life but that he would have to change his lifestyle, much to Frank's disappointment. Roy and Angela return from dinner one night to find Chuck waiting for them with a gun, alongside a badly beaten Frank. Angela shoots Chuck and Roy sends her off with Frank into hiding until the matter can be sorted out. As Roy prepares to take care of Chuck's body, Chuck suddenly springs to life and knocks Roy unconscious.

    Roy awakens in a hospital, where the police inform him that Chuck eventually died from the gunshot and Frank and Angela have disappeared. Klein appears and Roy gives him the password to his bank account, ordering him to give the money to Angela when she is found. Later, Roy awakens to find that the "police" have disappeared, his "hospital room" is actually a freight container on the roof of a parking garage, "Dr. Klein's" office is vacant, and essentially all of his money has been taken. As he begins to realize that Frank pulled a con on him, Roy drives over to Heather's (whom he hasn't seen for years) looking for Angela. While speaking with Heather, Roy learns the truth: Heather miscarried their child. There is no "Angela": the young girl he thought was his child was actually Frank's accomplice.

    One year later, Roy has become a salesman at a local carpet store, which Angela and her boyfriend one day wander into. Roy confronts Angela but ultimately forgives her, realizing that he is much happier as an honest man. Angela reveals that she did not receive her fair share of the cut from Frank, and that it was the only con she ever pulled. Angela and her boyfriend depart and Roy returns home to his new wife Kathy, who is now pregnant with his child.

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