Ridley Scott and Nicolas Cage deliver some of their best and most intelligent work in a few years, even if Matchstick Men is not quite either's great contribution for this year in film. What they have done, from Eric Garcia's novel (adapted by The Griffins), come off rather entertaining, if anything else, and boasts much more thought than would usually be attributed to such a Hollywood film. Nicolas Cage, who plays Roy, part anxious/obsessive compulsive, part sly con man, and part father to a daughter he never knew he had, is a main reason to see this movie. His performance is on par with someone like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets for watch-ability of a truly sad lifestyle, and while Nicholson's performance was and still is funnier and more charming, Cage gets so into his character, the little mannerisms that pop up more often than expected, that we feel for the guy even as his eyes get twitchy and goes over certain spots in his house like a detective. He may be the most believable obsessive compulsive/con man you'll see in a long while. Add then an outgoing, occasionally sneaky daughter (Alison Lohman in a performance that skillfully balances sweetness and irritability, sorrow and playfulness in a teenage girl) to the mix, along with a protégé-cum-partner (a cool Sam Rockwell) who has a love/loathe relationship Roy, and there's the map work for an interesting, if here and there predictable, drama/comedy/crime film.
Along with the performances, which are all above average (Cage could be deserved of an Oscar nomination come February, and Lohman could deserve the win possibly), is the visual framework that Scott pushes in each scene. By getting certain camera tricks, and fantastic editing by Dody Dorn (of 'Memento' fame), the viewer can really get into Roy's head even in the smaller scenes, the ones that have little to do with the plot and only to do with the neuroses of Roy (there is even a little touch that I loved when Roy is waiting online early in the film at the supermarket, and the music in the background is an excerpt of the mental hospital music from 'Cuckoo's Nest'). This echoes the style that Scorsese used in Bringing out the Dead, also with Cage, in moving the film to get so into the mood that the story, no matter how intriguing and important, becomes secondary.
Which brings me to my own personal beef with the movie, and that is the last fifteen minutes or so. It was clever, up to a point, but as it unfolded, no matter how much I was still emotionally involved with these people, I felt that the twists (I won't reveal them here) undermined a lot of the rest of the film. It will be based on viewer to viewer, but I just thought that it did a little too much to jab at Roy's lifestyle. And yet, when I walked out of the theater, though I wasn't sure I had seen anything spectacular, I didn't feel like I had wasted time and money either. Matchstick Men is witty, sometimes wonderful moviemaking.
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