Montreal Film Journal


Roy (Nicolas Cage) is such a good con artist that he’s conned himself in thinking that he’s spectacularly obsessive-compulsive, freaking about outdoors and dirt, full of tics and odd habits, popping pills and chain-smoking... When in fact, he’s a pretty normal guy. A little neurotic, sure, but not the twitching nutcase he sometimes works himself into. He starts thinking that maybe it’s his conscience that’s playing tricks on him, maybe a life of screwing people out of their money is screwing him up... So he takes his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell)’s advice and goes to a shrink, but just as that starts calming him a little, life throws him one hell of a curve ball: Angela (Alison Lohman), the tomboyish skateboard-riding little goofball daughter of the ex-wife Roy left 14 years ago with a black eye and a bun in the oven...

“Matchstick Men” was directed by Ridley Scott, but it’s not so evident. You kind of see his touch in the nervous editing and eye-popping visuals, but for the most part this is a laid-back little flick full of Frank Sinatra tunes and comic beats, sort of a bastard offspring of Catch Me If You Can and “Bandits”, but much less effective than those. It’s an amusing enough, moderately clever movie, but most of it is rather one-note. Nicolas Cage’s idiosyncratic performance is engaging, Sam Rockwell does the smartass thing he does and Alison Lohman totally makes you forget that she’s 10 year older than the ditzy teenage girl she plays, but there’s not much to the characters beyond that.

The first half is mostly enjoyable, with its insider look at a couple of cons and the uneasy cohabitation of Roy and Angela, but then it gets cry-babyish without having earned it. This leads to a more dramatic third act, with darker cinematography and Hans Zimmer going Thin Red Line on us, as if this was a Big Important Film. Um, no. I have to admit that the final twist is downright staggering, but it’s not quite enough to make up for the uneven pacing and shallow screenplay. “Matchstick Men” is not bad, but it’s not particularly good either. It’s a clear wait-for-the-DVD case.