Matchstick Men
3 out of 5 stars
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Ridley Scott goes Soderbergh in this breezy con artist romp livened up by superb performances and terrific editing. Roy (Cage) is a bundle of ticks and obsessions who has the ability to become anyone he needs to be to accomplish his next scam. His protege Frank (Rockwell) has obviously learned from the master, and together these matchstick men earn a decent living with small-time cons. But Roy's compulsive behaviour starts to interfere with his work, so he consults a shrink (Altman) who encourages him to get in touch with his ex-wife. When Roy last saw her 14 years ago she was pregnant, and he's shocked to discover that he now has a teen daughter (Lohman) who's keen to get involved in the family business. But as a larger-than-usual caper approaches, Roy's not sure he wants her along for the ride.

There's a jittery energy to this film that perfectly matches Roy's personality, cleverly directed by Scott, photographed by John Mathieson and edited by Dody Dorn, along with Hans Zimmer's seductive underscore and a finger-snapping soundtrack of Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert and Bobby Darin tunes. It's witty, seductive and thoroughly engaging, especially with a sharply measured performance from Cage, who's well matched with the eccentric Rockwell and the spirited Lohman. Unusually for Scott, there's a solid emotional resonance in Roy's internal journey. In many ways, this is Scott's best film yet (and this is the guy who made Alien, Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise; I refuse to mention Gladiator). So it's a real disappointment when the plot takes over from the much more compelling character comedy-drama. Soon everything else is in the back seat as the big heist comes down--and it's far too complicated and overwrought for either Roy or this film to handle! Suddenly we are more worried about when (not if) there's going to be a big double-cross twist somewhere, just as massive plot holes start to emerge that rely on frankly unbelievable coincidences. It's still entertaining and extremely engaging, but before the Hollywood movie machine took over, this had the potential to be a real gem.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 26.Aug.03

dir Ridley Scott
scr Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin
with Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Beth Grant, Melora Walters, Steve Eastin, Lynn Ann Leveridge, Jerry Hauck, Tim Maculan, Daniel Villarreal
release US 12.Sep.03; UK 19.Sep.03
03/US 1h56

Anxiety attack: Cage and Rockwell

cage rockwell lohman
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall