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"Matchstick Men" - Movie Review

"Matchstick Men" - Movie Review

Genre:  Crime, Comedy, Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence, brief scene of rear nudity and language)

Release Date:  September 12, 2003

Actors:  Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, Bruce Altman

Director:  Ridley Scott

Special Notes:  If you’re a fan of '50s music (like Frank Sinatra), you’ll love the warm and familiar selections Ridley Scott’s frequent music collaborator Hans Zimmer has selected. They picked music “Roy would listen to” and so in several scenes, we’re treated to Frank’s classic “Summer Wind,” Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” and even a little Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I loved it!  

Plot:  Phobia king and grifter Roy (Cage) and his sloppy partner Frank (Rockwell) consider themselves to be con artists, not con men or criminals. The two have an odd business relationship and friendship, in that they’ve discovered how to make a living at pulling off scams on unsuspecting people. These two matchstick men (as con artists can be called) have taken the annoyance of telemarketing to a whole new level with bogus sales of water-filtration systems to unsuspecting people who believe they've won big prizes, then hand over their bank account information. As the two work their con, day in and day out, Roy is fine with his routine until he runs out of the meds that control his psychosis and out of control ticks. Frank steps in and saves him with the name of a new psychoanalyst (Altman), who can give him medication. Through his sessions, Roy reveals the possibility of a child from a divorce long over. He has his analyst contact his former wife and soon discovers he’s the parent of a 14-year-old tomboy. The doctor arranges for Angela to meet the father she never knew she had, and she charms her way into his home and life. Angela (Lohman), quickly proves to Roy that she’s a born con artist, just like her Dad. In between her overnight stays and pizza, the two form a special bond and soon, Roy is conned by Angela into teaching her his tricks of the trade and going for a really big scam.
Good:  I liked this film for many reasons, the main one being Cage and his uncanny ability to take neurotic behavior to a new level and make me laugh. Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner", "Gladiator", "Black Hawk Down") has directed a very different kind of movie this time around – but it works. Roy’s obsessive-compulsive routines like not being able to open and close his front door without chanting three times ''uno, due, tre,'' or his agoraphobia to fresh air, despite the fact that he’s a frantic chain-smoker, makes Roy a mass of woes in a sort of appealing and vulnerable way. When his out-of-control daughter (jaded by living with a single mom and numerous boyfriends), suddenly moves into Roy’s space and slyly takes advantage of his ignorance in the fatherhood department, every parent will relate to the tsunami that sweeps over Roy’s orderly life, wreaking chaos and havoc on Roy. But with a little bit of love and a diversion of his attention and emotions onto Angela, we eventually see Roy’s ticks subside and his ability to overlook things get easier on him. Then it gets into the "touchy" part. After much begging and prodding by Angela, Roy eventually teaches her how to scam (but when she successfully takes money from a woman in a Laundromat, he makes her give it back). Most responsible parents and right-minded adults will find it sad and uncomfortable when Roy is thrilled that his daughter has picked up grifting with ease. It’s disturbing when you see an adult involve a child in behavior that is morally or legally wrong and in situations they have no business being in (like a con). But in the end, it will make sense. I squirmed as one scam didn’t go right, and it's touch and go with the two barely getting away. Although I would love to go to the next level and tell you where the plot twists and turns and what and why things happen to redeem those previous uncomfortable qualms, alas I would be giving away the “sting” or twist to the story. Those of you who will see this movie would be mad at me. I do, however, want to bring out an important point and will try to do so without giving the plot away. Neither God nor religion is a focus in this story, but a couple of Godly principles are which I think a person of faith will find interesting. First and foremost, you do reap what you sow. Although the ending may be disturbing, irritating and sort of shocking, at the same time you will have to leave the theater with a smile on your face because the principles of God always ring true, even in secular stories. Good does triumph over evil and in the end, justice has a way of settling the score in interesting ways. Often when good triumphs over evil it doesn’t mean that the good doesn’t get shafted, it just means that in the end, when a person realizes he was wrong and makes an effort to turn things around, that effort is rewarded in sometimes subtle ways. Evil people do sometimes get away with doing evil things, but eventually they too will reap what they have sown. One of my favorite parts is in the end when Roy recognizes that no one can put a price tag on the gift of love; when he chooses to give it, no one can steal that from him. 

Bad:  There’s some crude language along with one religious profanity. We see brief rear male nudity under a hospital gown, and when the men go into a dance club to pull a scam, we see girls pole dancing in brief attire. There are a couple of scenes where Angela pushes the father/daughter envelope; she uses bad language, drinks a beer, shoots her dad the finger and doesn’t come home until late one night, all with humorous reactions and scolding from her wanna-be dad. For those who might not want to see this movie because they think it promotes a crime of a father teaching his daughter to be a con artist (don’t worry, I thought the same thing), stay with it till the end. It will surprise you. What I didn’t enjoy was the way the screenwriters hook the audience into feeling empathy for a father surprised by the depth of his love for his daughter and  involve us in that relationship, then jerk us out by changing the course of the story with a slick, sleight-of-hand plot twist. That left me feeling … well … robbed. And then I got it, and I laughed at how brilliant the writing was and how it all made sense in the end. Remember, you reap what you sow, and it’s hard to find fault with that.

Bottom Line:  Parents this is a PG-13 adult comedy with themes and life lessons that will mostly be understood and appreciated by older audiences. Even though there is a teenage girl in the movie, it’s not a movie for young teenagers. I enjoy Ridley Scott’s directing and the little nuances and touches he gives to every scene and plot detail. The screenplay was written by the guys who wrote “Oceans Eleven,” and the movie plays like a cross between “The Sting” and “Paper Moon.” This is one of those movies that you’re going to walk out of and think about long afterward.