A review of “Matchstick Men” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours

 

 

Director Ridley Scott strays from the testosterone fold (“Black Hawk Down”, “Gladiator”) to focus his sights on a more cerebral animal – the con man.

Roy and Frank (Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell) are pros of the small-time swindle.  Working the phones and sliding in and out of character, they systematically dupe trusting blue-hairs out of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Grifters working a lucrative partnership…would that it were that simple.

The fly in the ointment is Roy --- an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic with a compulsion to clean.  When the facial tics and fear of the outdoors, not to mention his eccentric punctiliousness, reach level flash-point, Roy seeks the help of a neighborhood therapist (Bruce Altman as Dr. Klein) to right the psychological wrongs.

Therapy being what it is these days, the good doctor excavates well beyond Roy’s comfort zone and uncovers a 14-year old daughter from his dubious past.  Better yet, said adolescent (Alison Lohman as Angela) wants to meet Dad.

Needless to say, Angela’s appearance disrupts Roy’s carefully crafted routine. The pair takes baby steps towards forging a friendship, while Roy’s neuroses take a back seat to the evident joys of fatherhood.  That is, of course, until Angela demands a piece of the con.

“Matchstick” relies heavily on its Rat-Pack-ish ambience and retro style to propel its disjointed storyline steadily forward.  The natural flow is continually interrupted by contrasting narrative arcs.  Cage and Rockwell maintain a comfortable, professional camaraderie that is exceptionally watchable.  Lohman and Cage’s merger is less pleasurable – fraught with the awkward aura of effort. 

This is Cage’s movie, but the charismatic Rockwell steals the show from under his nose.  (Just watched “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” for the second time and I’m wowed by this man’s raging talent).  Lohman is critically miscast as an unmistakably early 20-something playacting as a 14-year old girl. 

Back to that ambience.  An aura of smooth-operating illegality pervades every frame, washing away lingering doubts regarding Scott’s ability to traverse genres. Accomplished trick photography and a snappy script lend a welcome edge that serves to crystallize “Matchstick” as a clever, albeit surface-slick, movie experience.