El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Nicholas Griffin & Ted Griffin
Based on the book by Eric Garcia

Matchstick Men is a wonderful film. It has great performances by Nicholas Cage, which is expected, and Alison Lohman, who really shines and will certainly get more work after this. The direction was much better than Ridley’s work on Gladiator, the overrated remake of Braveheart. He’s really in control on this one and it shows in the cinematography and editing choices he makes. The story is compelling as the plot moves along and it made me interested in reading the book.

Nic is Roy Waller, a "con artist", as he refers to it, with his partner/pupil Frank, played by Sam Rockwell. Roy has a number of tics, phobias and neuroses. He’s a clean freak to an extreme and when things get out of control, he cleans everything in his house to help restore order. Also, the outdoors bother him, he only eats tuna out of the can, he does certain things three times in a row like unlock doors, he smokes like a fiend, he has facial tics and best of all when he swears, he uses “Pygmies!”

When Roy runs out of his medication, Frank recommends a therapist who can get Roy a prescription, but when Roy goes to see the doctor, the doctor makes Roy talk about himself first before he writes Roy a prescription. Roy reveals that he’s divorced and has a child that he has nothing to do with because he left while his wife was pregnant. The doctor gives Roy the prescription on the condition that they meet again for therapy. Roy reluctantly agrees and the doctor gives Roy some new medication to try. After a couple sessions, Roy gets in touch with his daughter, Angela, who is about fifteen.

They meet and although it’s a bit awkward for both of them, they bond. Since they have such a nice time, they agree to see more of each other. After fighting with her mother, Angela shows up at Roy’s house. He can’t say no, so she stays. Eventually she finds out he’s a con artist, thinks it’s cool and begs him to show her something. Although he wants to be a good influence, he shows her a con involving a lottery ticket. Being a responsible father, he makes her give the money back to the woman when the con is completed.

Meanwhile, Sam is setting up a guy, Chuck, for a big score. Normally, Roy’s against really big dollar amounts, but he’s thinking about how a big one would help get him out of the racket and then he could be a normal father to Angela. The plan involves making Chuck think that he’s buying untraceable English pounds with American dollars, and with the exchange rate, he will be coming out ahead. They do it once for a small amount of money to show how easy it is before the big score, which will happen at the airport.

On the day of the big score, some homeless guy they use for other jobs is supposed to cause a diversion, but he can’t be found. To compound matters Roy is out with Angela when Chuck decides to take an earlier flight out of town. It has to happen right then. Roy decides to use Angela since all she has to do is cause a commotion. Things go from bad to worse very quickly, but that’s all I’ll say about the plot.

Some critics felt very smart and smug by pointing out that they figured out what was happening. Pygmies, it’s a con artist movie. It seems rather obvious that things are never going to be as they appear, but if you look for the plot twist, you miss the point of the film. The Sting is about the con; this is about the men who do the con, Roy especially. As his relationship with his daughter grows, he loses his guilt about the way things worked out and slowly loses all his phobias and neuroses. It’s a slow subtle change and by the end he’s fine and happy. There’s even an epilogue that illustrates the film is about the characters and not the plot.

I hope most directors make note that Ridley made a small film and his directing skills shined through. He’s made good films, but lately he’s been more craftsman than artist. Ridley reflects Roy’s character traits through his directing choices, such as by what the camera gets focused on and the jerkiness of the editing during his more manic situations.

Nicholas makes crazy look so easy and natural. I hope he’s made enough money so he can stop wasting his talents in blockbusters and stick to playing intriguing characters in interesting stories. Aside from his acting, the style of the film changes as Roy does; the editing is smoother and more natural as he becomes normal and well adjusted. This is the first time I’ve seen Alison and I really enjoyed her. She had a number of moods to pull off and she did them well.

I hope the film and crew get some attention when the awards are handed out, but it might have come out too early in the year.