Matchstick Men

2003, Movie, PG-13, 115 mins

Review

MATCHSTICK MEN
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A breezy crime picture with an unforced sentimental underbelly, Ridley Scott's ode to the conflicting allure of fatherhood and short cons is based on Eric Garcia's novel of the same name. Middle-aged Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) and his younger protege, Frank (Sam Rockwell) specialize in quick, uncomplicated cons. Roy is almost pathologically cautious and has amassed a substantial nest egg; he also has a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Frank is a spendthrift with a reckless streak, but when Roy's shady shrink decamps without notice and leaves Roy ticcing and without medication, Frank takes responsibility and recommends a psychiatrist who once treated a relative. Unfortunately (from Roy's point of view, anyway), Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) isn't content to push pills — he really wants to help. Klein gets Roy talking about his great regret, that he severed all ties with his pregnant former wife and never knew whether or not she bore his child, and Klein persuades Roy to call his ex. She wants no part of him, but his 14-year-old daughter, lively skateboarder Angela (Alison Lohman), does. Roy tells her he's an antiques dealer and within days of their first meeting she turns up on his doorstep, saying she's had a fight with her mom and needs somewhere to crash for a couple of days. Meanwhile, Frank has found the perfect mark for a complicated con, a greedy, well-heeled jerk named Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill), and Roy agrees reluctantly to break his "no long cons" rule and fleece Frechette. With Angela in the house, Roy's antique-dealing cover is quickly blown. But rather than being horrified, Angela is intrigued by her dad's dishonest profession — so intrigued that she bullies him into teaching her the tricks of the trade. Angela takes to grifting like PAPER MOON's larcenous little Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), and Roy is simultaneously delighted and horrified by what his lessons have wrought. The complicated family and criminal machinations resolve themselves in a whiplash-inducing (if entirely appropriate) twist, but the plot is firmly anchored by three engrossing performances. Cage's mannerisms are tailor-made for the role of Roy and Rockwell slimes easily through Frank's heartless intrigues; the surprise is relative newcomer Lohman, who effortlessly holds her own against seasoned attention-grabbers. The soundtrack, which relies heavily on melancholy Sinatra standards like "The Good Life," "This Town" and "Summer Wind," casts perfectly modulated warning shadows over the film's light, bright look. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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