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Matchstick Men (2003)

  Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin
Starring: Bruce Altman, Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, Sam Rockwell
Links: Matchstick Men on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Book, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.00 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 53rd of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Matchstick Men (2003) is also mentioned in em_fiction's review of Somersault (2004).

"Ridley Scott's change pays off" - a review by em_fiction

I must admit, seeing Ridley Scott's name attached to this film when I saw the trailer was one hell of a surprise. What happened to the big, giant, enormous, expensive blockbusters like Black Hawk Down (2001), Gladiator (2000) and good old Blade Runner (1982)?

Matchstick Men, despite being a major deviation from Scott's earlier work, is still quite impressive. It's simply the story of two successful con artists: Roy (Nicolas Cage) and his associate Frank (Sam Rockwell). Roy is an obsessive-compulsive phobic who is uptight with cleanliness and has a tendency to go nuts without pills. The plot thickens when Angela (Alison Lohman), Roy's long lost 14 year old daughter, makes a sudden return to him. This enlightens but also complicates Roy's life.

I'm not a huge fan of Ridley Scott. I can't deny that he's a great filmmaker, but I just don't get much out of his films. This film, however, much different from his earlier stuff, was also much easier for me to swallow. It's a film that's more based on real life rather than Scott's usual heroic epics. Some particularly good points about the film include the well-paced plot and warm, gentle nature. What I enjoyed most about this film was that surprises kept coming, so it moved along very well. There was also a sense of control over the emotion and feeling (rather than being pervaded with overly sentimental crap).

Before seeing the film, I was confused as to how 24 year-old Alison Lohman could pass as a 14 year old character. But she does, and she does it well. Lohman's youthful look alone gave her an advantage, but the true burden comes in on her amazing performance. In fact, her behaviour created such a convincing adolescence that it was hard for me to believe she wasn't a 14 year old. Sam Rockwell also deserves praise for his role as the average laid-back pal, doing his best to help his troubled partner; quite a humorous and worthy addition to the film. The turning point performance however definitely belongs to Mr. Cage. He is so delightfully funny in the way he acts out the obsessive-compulsive nature and it just so pleasing to watch him. I thought it was great to see him play another troubled character after the very impressive Adaptation (2002).

Matchstick Men was definitely a relief for me. It isn't something we haven't seen before, but nevertheless, Scott has created a calm, gentle and very enjoyable piece. The humour is appealing, the pace satisfies your patience and it also has a surprising finale. Wonderful.

em_fiction gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Sat 1 Nov 2003

"After men of steel, Ridley Scott turns his hand to Matchstick Men" - a review by citizenjoe

Okay, one... two... three...
Matchstick Men is a real departure for Director Ridley Scott. Just think amongst his last few movies have been Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), G.I. Jane (1997). In this one there isn't an oversized hero to be seen. There is not one action sequence. There's barely a swear word said in anger.

Ahem... How did the boy cope?


One... two... three...
If there is one thing Ridley Scott does at his best is pacing and timing. Matchstick Men sets a pace that's restrained and just when you want it to get up and go, Scott just hangs on to you, asking you kindly to wait and be patient. And then at every turn he rewards your patience again and again.

Matchstick Men is the story of Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage), a con man who has made quite a lot of money from the game.

Yet, it has never made him happy. Along the way, he has lost a marriage, has a daughter he has never seen, has developed a number of obsessive compulsive behaviours (one... two... three...), and uses a strange kind of logic to justify what he does: "I have never taken money from anyone; they have always given it to me."

With the help of a doctor he is seeing, he meets his daughter (Alison Lohman), and Roy finds a part of himself that he never knew existed.

Matchstick Men is full of terrific performances, Sam Rockwell is terrific as Frank, Roy's side-kick in crime, but the one that lights up the screen is Nicolas Cage. His obsessive compulsions are so real they're almost uncomfortable to watch.

It is about Con men, but more to the point it is about the power of family in a way that Cage's Family Man (2000) could never be. It's about the thrill of winning small victories, and the fear of losing everything.

Matchstick Men is not about the kind of superheroes Ridley Scott normally films. There aren't even any normal-sized heroes. However, there is a warmth and humanity that is really lacking in modern movies. And it is beautifully tempered by Ridley Scott who I believe is a master of mood pieces such as this.

citizenjoe gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Sat 25 Oct 2003

"1, 2, 3, and away we go." - a review by pearly

Some people are really good at figuring out where a movie is going to go, what the next plot twist will be, and how it will all finish up. I am not one of these people. Perhaps this is why I enjoy movies so much - I am taken on a journey to somewhere I do not expect. It is, in part, due to the fact that I barely ever read reviews or articles about movies before going to see them. The most I will know is what I've seen in the trailer, and sometimes not even that. But it is also probably a result of how I watch movies: in total relaxation mode, with my brain only switched on as much as it needs to be to understand what's going on, but not enough to think about what's going to happen next.

With Matchstick Men, though, I figured out what was going to happen very early on. And while I wouldn't say it ruined the movie for me, it certainly made it a very different experience. I wouldn't say that I figured it out because it was obvious (too obvious) and therefore boring and predictable - I just got lucky.

The thing is, I still enjoyed Matchstick Men immensely, and I wonder how much more I would have enjoyed it if I'd been more surprised by where it took me. So, I guess that's praise.

The cast do a wonderful job. Nicolas Cage is great, but he does overdo things a little here and there (probably hard not to when you're playing someone with OCD). Sam Rockwell is also great to watch, but Alison Lohman certainly holds her own in amongst these two.

The directing is stand-out, however. Cage's character Roy's OCD is offset by amplifying the things around him - the sound in particular. Every small movement, such as feet touching carpet, is accompanied by a sound as if we were hearing and seeing things the way Roy would. These sorts of details add so much to the film that you come to realise that this is a movie that could succeed even without the top notch actors that star in it. You could grab almost anyone with some sort of acting talent and, because of the direction, it could work. This cannot be said about all that many movies.

Pip pip, Ridley Scott.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 24 Oct 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 3
Average rating: 8.00
Lowest rating: 8 (by em_fiction, citizenjoe, pearly)
Highest rating: 8 (by em_fiction, citizenjoe, pearly)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Great acting by Alison Lohman
    shes going to be a star!

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Chip on Tue 07 Sep 2004 02:53 #

  2. I wish i could email Mr. Scott and tell him that he hit the nail on the head with black hawk down. he told it almost like it happen. many thanks to you. The ending is very sincere, i cry everytime i watch it. thank you!!

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Jeremy on Sat 29 Oct 2005 12:17 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (2 ratings)

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