Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men" is another one of those con movies where characters execute elaborate schemes to extort millions of dollars from their victims. But "Matchstick Men," unlike some of this year's more forgettable grifter movies (Confidence), stands out from the rest as a well-polished action drama that will tug on your emotions and sadistically toy with them until the end.
Roy (Nicolas Cage) is the leader of a two-man con team. His partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) is yearning for a bigger job a little more exciting than the usual insurance scam. As the movie opens, we see them at work. First they pose as tax agents tricking an elderly couple into mailing them a check over the phone for a small amount. Later, they show up at their house pretending to be government officials informing them that they've been scammed only furthering their own.
Roy suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, mood swings and panic attacks. You can probably guess that he's "got a lot of ticks." When his old psychiatrist skips town, Roy finds himself in need of his medication. Frank sets him up with a shrink named Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) who gets Roy to see him on a weekly basis and puts him on a medication that seems to do the trick.
Roy confesses that he hasn't talked to his ex-wife in several years and is told to give her a call. When he can't bring himself to doing so, he has Dr. Klein do it for him once he leaves his office. After the call is made, Dr. Klein informs Roy that he has a 14-year-old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) he never knew he had.
Angela spends a weekend at Roy's and the situation is rocky at best. Roy, a conman, doesn't necessarily know how to be a father, although he tries. They eventually begin to bond and Roy experiences the joy of perhaps something that has been missing in his life all these years; happiness. He doesn't seem to shake twitch or stutter when he's with his daughter, and she is always smiling and adoring the ground he walks on. Soon she finds out that her daddy is a conman. Soon she wants in.
With Angela in Roy's life, the big scam he and Frank are working on is about to get more complicated. Their mark is Frechette (Bruce McGill), a businessman looking to make a profit laundering large sums of British money in exchange for American currency.
The morality and dirty conscience issues are brought to attention, but Roy and Frank hilariously rationalize their career, saying that most of the time they don't steal from their victims, "They give it to me." The security blanket is that this particular mark in their latest scheme is knowingly involved in an illegal trade and has no legal outlet if the plan falls through.
Cage is brilliant. He is allowed some breathing room now that he isn't carrying most of the weight of a film like his role required in "Adaptation." His ability to act completely neurotic hasn't looked this good since "Bringing Out the Dead" where he played a New York City paramedic slowly losing his sanity as he's swallowed by his surroundings.
The supporting cast is just as strong, particularly the 24-year-old Lohman whose portrayal of a 14-year-old girl is flawless, complete with the silly immaturity we expect and sudden change of mood and attitude that all parents love to go through. Rockwell, McGill and Altman also give good performances as the supporting cast.
The theme of "Matchstick Men" is deception, and the inevitable plot twists will have even the experienced moviegoer tricked at some parts. I fell in love with the movie and quickly despised it after learning new plot points, and because of the film's ability to hook me in I can strongly recommend it. When you see it for yourself, you'll understand when I say it's easy to hate this movie, the way you would hate a woman just because she's so attractive and completely unobtainable.
I would like to see the film a second time already knowing how it will end and knowing how it leads up to the twisting conclusion. The final con that is pulled off is hard to believe and must have been extremely expensive for the team to pull off. But as much as it lacks plausibility, the film is charming and never lacks in pace.
Few moviegoers may figure out (unlikely) what's going on before it's revealed, but for the rest, getting conned yourself is only as bad as the ticket price for this film's admission. Tell that to their latest victim, Frechette.