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 movie audiences find so exciting? For me, it comes down to charisma; most cinematic con artists have charisma to spare, as well as intelligence, cockiness, and the ability to think on their feet.
And then there’s Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage).
He's the lead character in Matchstick Men, director Ridley Scott’s remarkable entry in the grifter genre. Along with his partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), Roy's made a boatload of cash bilking middle-class couples out of their nest eggs. Yet despite his success, he isn’t very 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 doing it. A lot of money. So how can he justify giving it up?
And then life throws him a curve. With the help of his new psychiatrist, Dr. Klien (Bruce Altman), Roy discovers he has a teenage daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman), the product of a failed marriage many 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 stringent house rules. Yet despite the 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 confrontation none of them are prepared for.
Nicolas Cage delivers a solid performance as Roy, accomplishing something no movie grifter before him had even attempted. In Roy, Cage has taken the usually fast-paced, exhilarating life of a con man and turned it into something mundane. What’s unique about this character is he's a thief who hates stealing. While most swindlers have a certain love, or at the very least an acceptance, of what it is they do, Roy's buckling under the pressure of self-loathing. Never mind he’s brilliant at what he does (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 on someone can sometimes be hard work, but shutting off your conscience while doing so? For Roy Waller, that just wasn't possible.