Tuesday, April 24, 2012

#617. Matchstick Men (2003)

Directed By: Ridley Scott

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, Sam Rockwell

Tag line: "lie cheat steal rinse repeat"

Trivia:  Alison Lohman went to the audition dressed and acted like a 14-year-old girl. Ridley Scott only realized her real age when she told him. She was 22 at the time

What is it about con men that audiences find so exciting? For me, it comes down to charisma; most cinematic con artists have it to spare, not to mention intelligence, cockiness, and the ability to think fast on their feet.

And then there’s Roy Waller.

Played by Nicolas Cage, he's the lead character in Matchstick Men, director Ridley Scott’s remarkable entry in the grifter subgenre. Along with his partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), Roy has made a boatload of cash bilking middle-class couples out of their nest eggs. Yet, in spite of his success, he isn’t happy in his work. In fact, his career choice has turned him into a neurotic wreck. 

Roy suffers from facial ticks and a variety of nervous disorders, for which his psychiatrist has prescribed medication. What's more, he's obsessive compulsive, freaking out when people walk on his carpet with their shoes on, or use his telephone without washing their hands. Obviously, being a swindler doesn’t agree with Roy, but he’s making a lot of money. A lot of money! So how can he give it up?

And then life throws him a curve. 

With the help of his new psychiatrist Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman), Roy discovers he has a teenage daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman), the product of his failed marriage years earlier. Before he has time to process this shocking bit of news, Angela has moved in with him, and what's more, she doesn’t adhere to his many house rules. 

Yet, despite some initial friction, Angela's presence has an unexpected effect on Roy: she makes him happy. With a new lease on life, Roy tells Frank he wants out of the con game, promising to assist in one last score before hanging it up for good. Together, and with Angela’s help, Roy and Frank dupe wealthy businessman Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill) out of big bucks. But when this last job goes bad, Roy, Frank, and Angela are forced into a game of cat and mouse that none of them expected.

Nicolas Cage delivers a solid performance as Roy, accomplishing something no movie grifter before him had even attempted. With Roy, Cage has taken the usually fast-paced, exhilarating life of a con man and made it seem mundane. What’s unique about this character is he's a thief who hates stealing. While most swindlers have a certain love for - or at the very least an acceptance of - what they do, Roy is buckling under the pressure of self-loathing. Forget the fact he's a brilliant thief (the all-time best, if Frank's to be believed). For Roy, being a chiseler makes him no better than the majority of today’s workforce. He hates his job, and has no idea how to go about changing it.

As we see in Matchstick Men, running a scam can be hard work. But shutting off your conscience while doing it? For Roy Waller, that was impossible.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Look interesting, I may have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

I was very surprised by this flick because it not only featured a very good performance from Cage, but also a twist at the end that really messed with my view of this story and made me realize that Scott can pretty much do it all, given the right material of course. Good stuff here man!

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: Thanks for stopping by! And it's definitely worth a watch

dtmmr: Yeah, the twist ending was really something in this movie. I did NOT see it coming, and you're right...it changes everything that went before. And this is definitely one of Cage's best performances (right up there with ADAPTATION). Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words.

Tommy Ross said...

Ridley Scott, Cage and the always great Sam Rockwell, plus a stellar script and you've got one great movie, love this one!