Movie Review
Matchstick Men
Matchstick Men poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published September 14, 2003
US Release: September 12, 2003

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Nicolas Cage , Sam Rockwell , Alison Lohman , Bruce McGill

Running Time: 116 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $36,873,000
11 of 132
Absorbed me immensely for most of the duration with its cool and jazzy tone and intriguing characters
I admit that I walked into Matchstick Men wanting to love it, and was already enjoying it from the first minute of screen time.

The film absorbed me immensely for most of the duration with its cool and jazzy tone and intriguing characters, but the third act let me down.
Nowadays filmmakers are literally required to present con men stories in different angles in order to be accepted by the critics, and Matchstick Men does just that. This is a very entertaining movie that focuses more on its characters than the cons, and if it weren?t for the disappointing final stage of the movie, I would?ve gone as far as to claiming the film as one of the best movies of the year.

Director Ridley Scott, known for larger scaled films with visual effects, goes toned down with the technical end of Matchstick Men, but not in the performance end. As much as this is a fun heist flick, the performances from the trio of leads (Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Lohman) are at the top of their league. And with Scott?s insertion of slick tunes, distorted lenses, and neat cinematography, along with the film?s skillfully constructed screenplay, Matchstick Men is converted into a very hip feature that reminds us how engaging movies can be.

The movie is about con artists, and yet the movie is more about the artists than the con. Nicolas Cage stars as Roy Waller, an antiques broker who (on the side) engages in con games that cheat innocent souls out of their money; he does with his antique partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell). Roy is divorced and has an obsessive-compulsive disorder; when he?s temporarily forced to stop taking his pills, his state of mind worsens, and simultaneously the daughter he never knew he had wants to meet him. Angela (Lohman) and Roy meet up, and she soon grows knowledge of his secret profession, wanting in on it.

Matchstick Men is like various heist movies before itself, including Confidence (B-), Ocean?s 11 (B+), and even branches back to the 1973 movie, Paper Moon (C+). Confidence was a pretty loose but entertaining diversion while Ocean?s 11 was a terrifically constructed ensemble piece, with Paper Moon going too cutesy on me. Matchstick has a very similar plot as Moon, as both involve a man/father figure taking in a young girl, with her discovering the nature of the guardian?s work.

Ultimately, it is style, performances, and the script that allows Matchstick Men to rule over the 1973 flick by a significant margin. From the first second, the viewer is already met with slick opening credits backed by a jazzy tune, with Cage?s performance soon delighting us with his consistently appealing presence. Pretty soon it is obvious that this persona is more or less the character he played in Adaptation (A-), but geared to more of a mainstream audience.

Matchstick Men was co-written by Ted Griffin, who was behind the screenplay for Ocean?s 11. Here, we are dazzled with clever word play like in the Steven Soderbergh flick, and while Matchstick Men is in no means as snazzy and cool as Ocean?s in its dialogue, the script delivers with the punch we expect.

In a well-constructed heist film, the characters are usually presented in an ultra cool manner as if the viewer should want to become them in their groove. If anyone in this cast follows that formula, it is Sam Rockwell. With the actor?s wardrobe and very suave manner of speech, Rockwell throws himself into a fascinating position where as the viewer, you just want to watch and observe.

Cage is also amusing and intriguing as the disorderly brain of the two, but Rockwell is the one who truly impresses in a cool standpoint following his solid delivery in George Clooney?s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (B) last year. Though Cage failed to win Best Actor for his dual performance in Adaptation (an award I felt he deserved), Matchstick Men might possibly place him in a stronger position come awards time (at least in terms of a nomination), as the film is more of a mainstream crowd pleaser.

At only 23-years old, Alison Lohman shows incredible skill at her talent, with White Oleander (B-) having been the keys to the kingdom that allowed her role in Matchstick Men to become available. Though the screenplay is a part of her character?s success, the execution would not be as bright if it were not for Lohman?s delivery as Cage?s 14-year old daughter. She convinces from the beginning stages of her appearance, showing charisma and an acting range that suggests capability of even more profound roles.

In Paper Moon, Tatum O?Neal won an Oscar for her role as the young girl figure, but the screenplay was too family friendly and cute in nature to build an appropriate tone. O?Neal?s character actually got annoying to me, leaving Lohman?s performance as a very pleasant one in result. It is doubtful (in my eyes) that the actress will get nominated for her position in Matchstick Men, but Hollywood does have a way of surprising every once and a while.

I found myself very engaged for most of the way through Matchstick Men (on the edge of a B+), but what dampened my opinion was the final act of the film. While including specifics would just be wrong, the last stage of the story felt too Hollywood in style, falling generic, with the surprises it has in store leaving me rather unaffected.

Also, the last couple minutes of the movie share almost no point other than to hopefully please female demographics who weren?t satisfied with the twists in store. The situation with the ending reminded me of Albert Brooks? comedy, Mother (B), which was a funny and enjoyable film (in my book), but I hated its last two scenes with passion.

Despite the later end of Matchstick Men not winning me over, the film is nevertheless a treat in the ways of visual motif as well as acting deliveries. The screenplay is not as well put together as Ocean?s 11, but there are many pieces that fit just right, supplying the results we crave. Matchstick Men was the worth the three-some months I waited in anticipation, delivering a fun and sassy film that I no doubt will be seeing again in the future.
Lee's Grade: B
Ranked #11 of 132 between Identity (#10) and The Cooler (#12) for 2003 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 2984 graded movies
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'Matchstick Men' Articles
  • Stephen's review B+
    September 14, 2003    Very stylish and suave, with superb performances -- Stephen Lucas
  • Greg's review A+
    September 14, 2003    It is very rare that a film this outstanding comes along -- Greg Ward