Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Long Con, Over Before It Gets Going: Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men!

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting characters, Not a bad story
The Bad: REAL predictable for anyone with a brain who is awake
The Basics: Despite some real problems with the basic story, which tries to fool the audience, Matchstick Men is entertaining.

There's a single detail, early in the movie Matchstick Men that makes the movie dreadfully obvious and predictable. It's a simple detail and were I to reveal it here in my review, it would not ruin the movie for most people. Still, I won't give it away, not even that. Sufficed to say, when a movie is about con artists, one has to figure the movie is in some way a con itself. Matchstick Men never pretends to be anything smarter than that, so when the "big reversal" comes, most of us will not be surprised.

Roy Waller is a con artist who is a germaphobe and possibly obsessive compulsive. He's living the life of a grifter and doing quite well with his professional partner Frank. After a severe bout of stress, Roy finds himself in need of medicine and takes up therapy with Dr. Klein, who gets him to start questioning the way he lives his life. Dr. Klein helps Roy find his daughter and when Roy meets his adolescent daughter Angela, he begins to teach her the tricks of the con artist trade. Roy and Angela soon find themselves in a sticky situation involving a con.

And ultimately, of course, that leads to the real reversal in the movie.

Sigh. Some movies just try to be clever and succeed only when its pandering to the viewers of the lowest intelligence. Matchstick Men is not that bad. It's well-written, has moments that are clever, but it simply fails to get the well-watched viewer to forget its premise. Quite directly, all of the clues for what's truly going on in the movie are there, out in plain sight and the only way to miss them is, well, I don't know how one would miss them because I didn't.

The characters are interesting, though Roy's transformation is ridiculously quick. Roy goes from being a germaphobic con artist to a man who simply wants to be a good father very quickly. So, when the resolutions begin to fall into place, it's somewhat surprising that he doesn't go on a mean ticking streak. It makes the viewer feel like his initial disorder - or sense of disorder - was more an act than an actual character flaw or aspect of personality.

Conversely, all the acting is real good. Bruce McGill is fantastic as the Chuck, the mark. He's believable as greedy and turns violent perfectly. Bruce Altman is wonderful as Dr. Klein and his performance is no doubt what sells much of the movie. Even Sam Rockwell is good as Roy's partner in cons. He makes us believe the character thoroughly from beginning to end. Rockwell creates personas for Frank throughout the movie and that keeps the pace flowing.

Nicholas Cage is great as Roy. This is possibly the best performance I've seen him in. He is funny as the quirky germaphobe at the beginning (think Monk as a con artist) and despite the speed it happens at, Cage is able to soften his face at moments to make the viewer know how much his character cares about his new daughter. He plays the shifting role with ease and he incorporates mannerisms and facial expressions well to convince the audience of his character's growth and change. At the end, in fact, Cage gives an entirely different performance than what we see throughout the rest of the film.

Alison Lohman is given the lion's share of work to do here, though. Lohman's ability to sell the viewer on the enthusiastic girl one minute, then turn it on the dime to be the troubled, bothered damaged girl the next is perfect. Lohman's character so easily manipulates Roy because Lohman manipulates the audience. Her youth, innocence and playful demeanor, combined with the way she is able to cry on a dime, tugs at something very visceral and protective within Roy and the audience. She does a tremendous job in the role.

Ultimately, it's just enough of a good time for me to recommend. However, like The Game (reviewed here!), where the reversal is supposed to be big, revelatory and shocking, it falls short to fans of movies, books and television who have seen this all before. This is done well, but it starts with a serious disadvantage; trying to con an audience in the know.

For other works that Ridley Scott has been involved in, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The A-Team


For other film reviews, please be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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