Nicolas Cage turns in one of his best performances ever in Matchstick Men, the new crime comedy from director Ridley Scott.
Cage stars as Roy, a con man - excuse me, con artist - that suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias. For instance, he doesn't like dirt or the outdoors, and stress causes him to have noticeable ticks and spasms. Nevertheless, that won't stop him from pulling off the biggest con of his career with his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell)... until the 14-year old daughter he never knew he had (Alison Lohman) shows up and turns his life upside down - or rightside up.
Matchstick Men is a father-daughter crime comedy that gets serious near the end and at time fluctuates between genres, but still was undoubtedly be considered one of the better films of early fall, and all of 2003. The script is funny and the characters are entertaining to watch, but it is most definitely Nicolas Cage that carries this movie.
Cage, who made a name for himself doing smaller scale movies that required a lot of acting (and which consequently landed him a Best Actor Oscar), moved onto action and suspense where his career ultimately fizzled. The Rock and Con-Air were good, but after bombs like 8mm and Snake Eyes, he was in definite need of a revival. Thankfully, he made a big comeback in Adaptation, and MatchStick Men should further return him to his previous glory. His mannerisms are classic here, as is the rest of his performance.
Rockwell, who made a name for himself in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Lohman, who did a good job in White Oleander, both do great jobs here, though their performances are definitely shadowed by Cage. While Lohman gets her fair share of screen time, it would have been nice to see a little more of Rockwell, and, in fact, it would have fit with the storyline. He is one of those important characters that just floats around in the background.
Matchstick Men is an entertaining movie from beginning to end, but it does suffer from split personality disorder. This is a symptom that I have noticed in many crime comedies, where the movie just flows nicely as a great comedy but then feels as though it needs to become more serious near the end to support the crime aspect of the story. Granted, Matchstick Men handles everything pretty well as it never becomes too serious, but the comedy definitely fizzles in the last half hour. In fact, there really isn't a single funny scene in that last half hour, where the first hour and a half was filled with funny little things.
Nevertheless, Matchstick Men makes up for most of this lack of comedy with a good twist thrown in for measure. The twist is fairly surprising and hard to guess.
Unfortunately, even the twist doesn't make up for the last five minutes, where for some reason Ridley Scott decided that the story needed something sentimental. I was really hoping for one final twist instead of what actually happens, which is very little. It is not a good way to end a movie, especially a crime comedy such as this.
Everything being said, Matchstick Men is a pretty good film, with quirky comedy, great acting and a good story. It may not be for everyone as the comedy is slower and more patient, but should entertain nonetheless. The last five minutes are a little disappointing, but the ending is merely a follow-up; the heart of the story is well done.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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