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“Ever Been Dragged to the Sidewalk and Beaten Until You PISSED BLOOD!?”

October 1, 2008

MATCHSTICK MEN
d. Ridley Scott

Not the kind of film you would usually associate with Ridley Scott, Matchstick Men tells the story of a con man, Roy (played by Nicolas Cage), whose life changes when his estranged daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), enters his life. On the surface it sounds like many other movies of its ilk, but what differentiates this from the run-of-the-mill genre pic is the wonderful relationship that develops between the father and the daughter, as well as the strange character traits Roy exhibits.

Roy is an anal-compulsive, constantly cleaning his apartment and opening and shutting doors a total of three times; he is also a catalogue of facial tics and vocal spasms. Nic Cage gives a surprisingly engaging performance reminiscent of the more colorful characters from the start of his career; and while most would consider it too mannered or over-the-top, Nic makes us sympathize with him especially when he becomes desperate as his condition worsens (look to the scene towards the end when he skips the line to convince pharmacists to give him his medication). Also giving a winning performance is Alison Lohman as his daughter. Usually when a character like Angela enters the movie, she runs the risk of becoming a bit of a Scrappy-Doo — an irritating sidekick to the protagonist; however, this is not the case. Finally, Sam Rockwell also turns in a great performance as Frank, Roy’s partner in con.

While the twist towards the end is telegraphed early (having become used to the con genre (see Mamet)), the journey there is very enjoyable. It’s interesting that the con genre is usually about the figurative parent/child, or teacher/student, relationship and here it is realized literally (mostly). When Nic breaks down after the big twist, especially when he confronts Angela’s mother, it is quite something to behold; Nic really sells the betrayal.

At the end I wanted Roy to be angry and take revenge, but the ending as it is makes sense. There is forgiveness and enlightenment when he confronts his daughter, and in the last shot, Roy gets redemption.

In any case, I was surprised and pleased that this movie won me over. I found it funny and refreshing. It’s certainly one of Nic’s best films in ages, and I will keep my eye out on Alison’s career.

Three out of Five Stars.

Next up should be the George Clooney vehicle Leatherheads.

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