In Ridley Scott’s retro concoction Matchstick Men, a phobic con artist played by Nicolas Cage decides to turn one last fraud after meeting the 14-year-old daughter he never knew. The script by Nicholas and Ted Griffin is a mess of clichés—it’s only a matter of time before the obsessive compulsive Roy (Cage) meets daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) that the facial ticks slide off and he forgets to take off his shoes inside his mod living room. Twist endings are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Matchstick Men‘s final clincher isn’t unique because is forces us to reconfigure everything that transpires prior, but because it makes its very predictability part of its master fraud. The film’s con is written in everything from the sometimes tongue-in-cheek dialogue (“For some people, money is a foreign film without subtitles” may be the best line of the year) to the steely backdrops and retro songs that make the film difficult to place on an actual timeline, and part of the film’s genius is how Scott repeatedly pokes his audience with this aesthetic framework. Then again, Scott is usually his own worst enemy, so there’s no real excusing the cheap film-school tricks he employs throughout the film’s first half to evoke Roy’s compulsive behavior. Scott’s frequently blurry, fast-moving camera merely exaggerates what an overly mannered but impressive Cage evokes just fine on his own with his character’s unharnessed blinking and compulsion to close doors not once, not twice, but three times. This stylistic noxiousness predictably subsides along with Roy’s compulsive behavior as soon as the incredible Lohman enters the picture. But if you’re enticed by the clever con written in the film’s mise-en-scène, it’s still a disappointment that the filmmakers don’t treat the sentimentality of the film (especially everything that transpires after the final trump card) with the kind of wit that governs its aesthetic. Those who’ve pleasantly coasted along with Matchstick Men‘s sleek, retro groove may find themselves reminded of how Robert Altman coyly and viciously rubber-stamped The Player‘s mordant Hollywood molestation with a clever bun in the oven.
- Ridley Scott
- Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin
- Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohmann, Bruce McGill, Bruce Altman, Steve Eastin, Beth Grant, Melora Walters
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: