Brothers presents a film directed by Ridley Scott. Written
by Nicholas and Ted Griffin, based on the novel by Eric
Garcia. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for profanity
and violence). StarringNicolas
Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce
has not been very long since Eric Garcia's novel, "Matchstick
Men" was published, and already there is a film adaptation.
Why? Because, after reading the manuscript of the novel, Nicolas
Cage immediately purchased the rights to make a movie out
of it. With Ridley Scott signed on as the director, production
started almost immediately, and now the movie has been released.
It was good timing on Cage's part, too. Matchstick Men
is an excellent film, and the first great mainstream movie
of the fall.
has the unenviable task of juggling three separate stories
at the same time, and, surprisingly, it pulls it off admirably.
These stories are: (1) that of a man who stumbles through
life with obsessive/compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and
a whole variety of facial tics, (2) that of the con-man and
his protegé, and the con they are attempting to pull
off, and (3) a father meeting the teenage daughter he never
knew he had. The man in the first story, the con-artist in
the second, and the father in the third are all the same man:
Roy Waller (Cage).
His partner and student is Frank (Sam Rockwell). And his daughter
is Angela (Alison Lohman).
Roy spills his medicine down the sink, he gets particularly
bad, and he goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman).
At first he is only going to get new medicine, and he does,
but the sessions eventually become helpful. Roy reveals that
he had been married, and that his ex-wife had been pregnant
when she left him. He asks Dr. Klein to get in touch with
his ex, and he does. He also finds Roy's lost daughter, Angela,
and sets up a meeting between her and Roy. Soon, Angela is
living with Roy, and when he takes her out on a con he realizes
that she has a knack for that kind of thing. She loves doing
it, and Roy loves having her do it.
is brilliant in the way it handles these separate stories.
Each one is given just the perfect amount of time, and it
never stays on one for so long that we lose interest before
it switches again. The characters are all fully developed,
and none of them are either completely good or completely
bad; when they do something, it makes sense. And the epilogue,
which could have gone terribly wrong, is completely faithful
to the characters and to what has come before it. Instead
of lessening the experience, it ties up the story and offers
an immensely satisfying catharsis.
movie has more on its mind than just the traditional con,
but the one that is there is as well-planned and executed
as nearly anything David Mamet has ever put together. And
to draw more comparisons to Mamet, the dialogue, especially
that between Roy and Frank, is smart, funny, and dazzling.
If you haven't already figured it out, I consider Matchstick
Men's screenplay to be an Oscar-worthy achievement. Even
the seemingly obligatory plot twist is smart, surprising,
and oddly poignant.
Scott, better known as a director of such action films as
Alien, Black Hawk Down, and Gladiator,
has never made a film like Matchstick Men before. It
is light, fast-paced, and, most of all, often really funny.
In a lesser movie, the humor would come from exploiting Roy's
disorder for laughs. Matchstick Men never sinks to
such a low level. Instead, it finds humor in the characters'
relationships. And, at the same time, it is often emotionally
involving. Roy's relationship with Angela is one of finest,
most interesting father-daughter relationships in recent memory.
cast of Matchstick Men takes one respected veteran
and two of the finest up-and-coming actors working today,
and it uses them all to the best of their abilities. In my
end-of-2002 commentary I remarked that Nicolas Cage had returned
to acting (with the brilliant Adaptation), and
that I hoped he never left again. Well, he hasn't yet, and
for the second year in a row he gives one of the best lead
performances of the year. His performance as Roy could have
been obnoxious or over-the-top, but it never is, and he shapes
the character into a real person with real feelings. Alison
Lohman and Sam Rockwell are no less impressive. Lohman could
be one of the best teenage actresses working today - except
she's not, because she's 23. In Matchstick Men, she
is asked to play a character nearly ten years younger than
Lohman actually is, and she is never not convincing. Rockwell
gives Frank the perfect mix of sarcasm and sincerity to make
him a likeable character. Many of the film's laughs come from
Rockwell's flamboyant performance.
is becoming increasingly rare to find a mainstream release
like Matchstick Men - one that can deftly combine entertainment
and emotional impact into one whole. When a film like this
does come along, it is an event to be celebrated and supported
- through ticket sales. Go see Matchstick Men. If it
makes money, there may be more films like this released in
the coming years. And what a nice thing that would be.
2003 Matt Noller