6 out of 10
Mixes Quaint Family Drama and Dark Thriller
With impressive cinematography and attention to detail for a picture about small time telephone con artists, "Matchstick Men" starring Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohmann, is focused on Cage all the way and is a touching, unique and eccentric portrait and as as beautifully and sophicatedly filmed as director Ridley Scott's previous pictures "Bladerunner," "Gladiator" and "Alien" but with sadly a more disappointing story.
Based on the book of the same title by young American writer Eric Garcia ("Anonymous Rex") and rewritten for screen by brothers Nicholas and Ted Griffin ("Oceans Eleven"), the story takes place in present day California where an anxiety riddled con man, Roy Waller (Cage), and his some time partner Frank Mercer (Rockwell), hoping to retire from their life of crime decide to pull off a money laundering heist, where they will attempt to exchange thousands of pounds for American dollars. Usually gifted at being a criminal, Waller's recent life however has fallen apart. Becoming more dependent on medication, he has become completely obsessed by work, hairs on his carpet, dust on his windows and dirty shoes touching his floor. Seeking a psychiatrist to replace his prescription for tranquillizers, he has also just found out he may have a teenage daughter - Angela (Lohmann) - someone whom he has never known, but who is not only eager to reunite with her dad, but is even more interested in assisting him in his life of crime.
Containing beautiful and poignant shots that speak volumes without words, something for which Scott is famous, his eye for beauty gives another dimension to this simple tale, giving it a layered atmosphere which is impressively accented by Cage's subtle and memorable performance. Ideal for the role, one of the conflicted and out of place modern man for which he as become well known in previous films such as "Leaving Los Vegas" and "Raising Arizona," as Roy he is perfectly twitchy, tormented and utterly believable. Although the performaces of Rockwell and Lohmann beside him, seem rough in comparison, Cage is riviting enough that somehow the picture all comes together and also with it's unique storyline it will capture your interest and keep you guessing until the final surprising ending.
Although there are many engaging moments, there are some downsides to this picture. Never quite venturing out of the picturesque stillness, however, it will also keep you asking, just what is the point of this picture? Filmed in an atmosphere which is also often too dark and stiffling, Scott also manages to drain away the impact of any action or drama keeping the focus too tightly on Cage's state of mind, and making many scenes seem drab, eventually leading the picture fail where it could have succeeded. Often mixing moments of quaint family drama, a love story and a dark violent thriller, it is hard to understand where the plot is aimed, which would would leave anyone with a nervous tick. Lohmann, also, although earnest as Mercer's lost daughter Angela, is not always convincing and the two have a relationship that is too devoid of chemistry or innocence required to make the story work.
Containing some clever irony and social commentary, the film is truely at it's heart more about survival and turning one's life around than it is a crime film and is more intelligent than most of the same subject, however it is a too slow and dark, somewhat more like "Weather Man" or "About Schmidt" and less like "Reservoir Dogs" or "Mickey Blue Eyes" to be one that anyone will become endeared with. Possibly worth renting, more likely worth saving for tv so you can see it free, with it's rather anticlimactic ending, you won't be missing out on much if you turn it off halfway through.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies