Matchstick Men

Thanks to the US policy of reserving all the mindless blockbusters for the heady Summer months of June, July and August, we now find the quality Oscar-worthy movies of December and January. Well, it's the movies who think they're Oscar-worthy. And Matchstick Men in particular was released in September in the US, so does it count as an Oscar flick? Well, yes, since it's got the goods.

Matchstick Men is a story about a con-man, Roy Waller, brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Cage. He and his partner (Sam Rockwell) run various scams and we see one where they first dupe unsuspecting marks to buy something they don't need (using a free gift as a lure) and then they visit the victim disguised as Federal agents, informing them that they have been cheated. So, the victims lose their money but don't report it themselves to the authorities.

One thing that stops this partnership from moving on to bigger and better things is Roy's obsessive-compulsive neurosis and his dependance on drugs to try and keep things in check. He finally agrees to therapy after a doctor makes it clear that he would only get more prescriptions if he agrees to it.

Roy admits to the psychiatrist that he has closed himself off from the rest of the world ever since he left his wife. After persuading the doctor to call her, he finds out that he has a daughter who very much wants to meet him.

And so Roy meets his daughter (Alison Lohman), rediscovers himself and gains the confidence to execute that big grift. Along the way, his daughter finds out the family business and wants to learn all about it.

However the path of true happiness is never smooth. The thing about watching movies about con-men is that you know the movie itself will try to pull a fast one on you somewhere. Yet, watching this particular movie is so compelling that actually it doesn't really matter what the final twist in the end is. And when it does come, it serves to benefit the characters more than the plot.

Firstly, the script is fantastic. It's based on a book by Eric Garcia, adapted in part by Ted Griffin, who in turn had also adapted Ocean's Eleven. So it's that kind of script in that kind of movie.

Next, the acting is fantastic. Nicolas Cage is best when he isn't playing normality (which is why I really didn't like the Family Man), and Alison Lohman is engaging as his daughter. And Sam Rockwell plays just the right counter-balance to to Cage's idiosyncrasies.

Finally, the directing is fantastic. It's Ridley Scott, for goodness sake (something I wasn't aware of when I first watched it). You have to go back to Thelma and Louise to find a movie of his that touches your core the way Matchstick Men does. You feel about the characters, you care what happens to them.

So, is it Oscar-worthy? Here's what I think: Best Actor nomination for Nicolas Cage, maybe a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Alison Lohman and a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

(But what do I know? I haven't seen enough of the competition to maybe justify this. Certainly, the film was nominated for nothing in the Golden Globes this year.)
posted on Friday, January 09, 2004 - permalink
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