Director Ridley Scott, who is mostly known for his action-packed, thrill-seeking motion pictures like Gladiator, Blade Runner, and Alien, has ventured into uncharted territory with his latest production. While Matchstick Men may be a far-cry from the likes of “Maximus,” “Rick Deckard,” and “Ripley,” the British-born Scott shows off his vast versatility by creating this comedic caper film that has a fun and fairy-tale feel.
Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage) is an OCD sufferer (similar in routine to Nicholson’s role as Melvin in As Good As It Gets) who is, at the same time, a professional con-artist. Roy and his partner-in-crime Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) are both in the planning stages of trying to pull off a lucrative, but extremely high-risk con, when a problem arises. The fourteen-year-old daughter Roy never knew he had, suddenly strolls into his life and learns of his illegal occupation. Now, Roy must live two separate lifestyles—one good: being a loving attempt of a father to his teenage daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), and one bad: still being the matchstick man (a.k.a. con man) on the prowl to “earn” his next dollar from an unsuspecting victim. Roy must make the distinction between his two different styles of living, and also weigh out his options of whether or not to allow his newly-acquired offspring to join in on his next big scam.
Nicholas Cage plays yet another off-the-wall character, directly following his wondrous performance as both Charlie and Donald Kauffman in Adaptation. Here, Cage’s performance as Roy, the spick-and-span con man, is played with such stimulating precision. Cage freely entertains with all of his long and uncomfortable-sounding “uhh…?”’s, his high-pitched staccato “woo”’s, and both his random outbursts of frustration and repetitious shouts of “pigmies.” His portrayal as the compulsive criminal, who is also attempting to be a loving father, is absolutely flawless; his jumpy reflexes and compulsions, along with his quirky facial tics, combine to make his extreme talent as an actor obvious and make for a performance that is beyond enjoyable to watch.
When Roy’s pills run out, his OCD cleaning fixations are greatly demonstrated—just think Danny Tanner on speed. Roy has an insanely-organized, pantry-sized room stuffed with cleaning products. He becomes paranoid of the shear thought of shoes on his clean carpet. And with any tiny detection of spores, germs, or crumbs, Roy will go off into a neat-freak, cleaning frenzy.
Alongside Cage is the fresh and gorgeous face of Alison Lohman. Following up her recent role in the mediocre White Oleander, Lohman plays Roy’s instantly likeable, smart, and funny fourteen-year-old daughter. The fact that, during the time of filming this picture, Alison was a twenty-two-year-old actress, who, without a doubt, easily pulled off the role as an eighth-grader, proves that she will definitely go far in the acting world. If it were up to me, I would have definitely placed Lohman onto the sparse list of supporting actresses who were nominated for the 2003 Oscars.
All in all, this film works wonderfully as a whole, even down to the overly extensive screen time given to cigarettes; throughout the film, there are so many scenes of just a character simply smoking and puffing away on the cancer-causing, nicotine-filled, tobacco-rolled papers. It really makes one wonder, why Roy, the neat freak, is so careless with his own personal hygiene in keeping his lungs free from tar, yet he will spend hours cleaning his L.A. home with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
If there comes a point in the film when you think the picture may have taken a turn for the worse and you are wondering how it is going to end, have no fear. The uncomfortable twist the film takes, twists into a beautiful and perfect ending.
In the end, Matchstick Men will leave you more than satisfied with the three main characters’ perfect performances, the clever plot, and the intelligent and witty dialogue. Matchstick Men is a consummate collaboration that can be placed alongside The Sting, on the absolute top shelf of the caper-plotted bookcase of motion-pictures. (***1/2 out of ****)