In the bizarrely wonderful MATCHSTICK MEN, directed by Ridley Scott
(GLADIATOR), Roy (Nicolas Cage) gets to take his daughter to his own special
Take Your Daughters To Work Day. After teaching her some of his artistic
skills, he feels the need, however, to have her return the money she earns.
Not some stuffy old paint-and-brush artist, Roy is a con artist. He is not a
criminal, he points out to her, since he only gets money from people who give
it to him. He never takes it from them. It's a distinction that law
enforcement officers probably wouldn't adequately appreciate.
Cage gives a masterful performance that recalls some of his work from LEAVING
LAS VEGAS, in which he played a man obsessed with booze. Roy isn't just a
crook -- excuse me, Roy, I meant a con artist. He is also a man with a bad
case of obsessive compulsive disorder. When he closes a door, he does it three
times in rapid succession, counting off the times out loud in various
languages. Nothing is too clean for him, and he tells his shrink about one of
his "good days" in which he considered blowing his own brains out but worried
about the stain that it would produce on his pristine carpet.
Roy's partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell, GALAXY QUEST), is, of course, an
unrepentant slob. They work one scam after another, with their current one
involving selling water purification devices for ten times their value by
promising one of four non-existent prizes. The conflict of the moment concerns
their business expansion plans. Frank wants to move up the grifter's food
chain, but Roy has more than enough money to retire if he wants to.
Into Roy's carefully regimented existence -- his refrigerator only has small
cans of tuna and a single TV dinner -- comes the daughter that he wasn't sure
if he had or not. Alison Lohman, who was so impressive in WHITE OLEANDER,
plays Angela, the fourteen-year-old who comes to stay briefly with Roy after he
has his shrink call up his ex. Angela is a tomboy and a skateboarder who is an
extrovert and Roy's opposite when it comes to cleanliness. The only gene that
they appear to share is the one for lying one's way to a wad of cash. After
her taste of the sweets of swindling, she becomes eager to help out her Dad
with his work.
From there ... well, let's just say, let the games begin.
MATCHSTICK MEN runs a little long at 2:00. The film is rated PG-13 for
"thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language" and would be
acceptable for kids around 11 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 14, gave it *** 1/2, commenting on how the movie had it
all: comedy, seriousness and sweetness. He thought Cage's performance was
quite good, but he raved about Lohman's work, which he thought deserved an
Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes