Herald Journal Columns
Sept. 22, 2003 Herald Journal
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Quirky 'Matchstick Men' will captivate you

By JERRY FORD

The tagline "Lie, Cheat, Steal, Rinse, Repeat" for the new film, "Matchstick Men," isn't the catchiest ever written, but it doesn't need to be.

The very recognizable name and face of Nicolas Cage is enough to guarantee a sizable audience; and, coupled with Riddley Scott's credit as director, it was certainly enough to pique my interest.

"Matchstick Men" is the story of a smalltime con artist, Roy (Cage) and his young protégé, Frank (Sam Rockwell), who decide it's time to make a big heist. But complications arise when the 14-year-old daughter (Allison Lohman) that Frank didn't know he had suddenly shows up in his life.

There are three things that keep this typical hi-jinx heist story from becoming an otherwise mediocre movie.

If there was any doubt that Nicolas Cage is a consummate method actor, this role should remove it.

The character of Roy Walker is probably the quirkiest shyster in modern film ­ his neurosis starts with obsessive/compulsiveness and agoraphobia, and goes from there. In the hands of a lesser actor, all the ticks, habits, panic and otherwise odd behavior would look contrived and melodramatic.

Cage not only makes this emotinally flawed trickster believable, but even gets us to like him ­ all of which is important to the success of this film, for there's hardly a shot without him in it.

But all the great acting in the world won't make a good movie if there's not a director with the vision and talent to capture it on the screen. Riddley Scott ("Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "Black Hawk Down") has, over the years, mastered the art directing without losing the ability to communicate with a broad audience. He is what all great feature film directors should be: a consummate storyteller.

"Matchstick Men" is told with enough fancy editing techniques, camera angles and directorial flash to fill a textbook, but it never gets in the way of the story ­ quite the contrary, all the dazzle enhances the narrative and gives us special insight into the characters.

The final factor that elevates this film above the norm is a delightful ending that caught me completely off guard. Don't let your friends tell you much about "Matchstick Men" before you see it so that you can enjoy this twisting ride for what it is: a well-told story portrayed by some of the best in the industry.

Matchstick Men is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language.


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