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Laramie Movie Scope:
Matchstick Men

Edgy, funny film about con artists

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 21, 2003 -- “Matchstick Men” is a slick, smart, funny film about two con artists making a good living by exploiting people's greed. Nicholas Cage (“Adaptation”) stars as Roy Waller, a con artist who is a nervous wreck. His partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”) is getting tired of Roy's increasingly erratic behavior.

Roy goes off the deep end when he runs out of anti-anxiety pills. The doctor who gave him the pills has left town and he can't get more. He suffers from nervous ticks, anxiety, agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. He goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman of “Changing Lanes”), who suggests his problem has to do with guilt. His guilt not only stems from swindling people out of their hard-earned money, but from walking out on his pregnant wife years earlier. Roy is told he should try to connect with his daughter, whom he has never seen. Soon, he does talk to his 14-year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman of “White Oleander”). The two become friends and Roy's anxieties begin to fade. Angela also displays an unusual interest in, and an unusual ability to practice, her fathers grifting trade.

Roy begins to think about trying to get joint custody of his daughter and even thinks about going straight. He is in the middle of one last big con with his partner when things begin to take a drastic turn for the worse. Cops, and a former mark begin to close in on the two con men. Cage, Rockwell and Lohman are all effective in their roles. Cage's nervous ticks and other psychological problems seem too forced, but he is such a fine actor, he pulls off the rest of his performance very well. Lohman, as she did in “White Oleander” is exceptional in her ability to play children's roles, even though she is an adult. Rockwell, who got his first major break playing a nervous crewman on “Galaxy Quest,” is a gifted comic actor equally at home in dramatic roles.

The film also has a good soundtrack and a nice musical score. Production values are high. The sets look great and the cinematography by John Mathieson (“Gladiator”) is dazzling. Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”), better known for big, dramatic films, shows he's no slouch when it comes to small comedies, either. This is the third exceptional film with similar themes about crooks and con artists in recent months. The three are “Confidence,” “The Italian Job” and “Matchstick Men.” All three films feature a nice Hitchcock-like plot twist at the end and all have strong acting, sharp dialog and clever plots. Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of films about crooks, con men and heists, but these three films are well above the run-of-the-mill films of this tired genre (such as “The Spanish Prisoner” or “The Score”). Maybe it was “Ocean's 11” which resurrected this genre from the mediocrity into which it had sunk. I heartily recommend all three films. “Matchstick Men,” with its surprise ending and solid performances, is one of the best films I have seen this year. It rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)