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Matchstick Men (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with Ridley Scott, writer Nicholas Griffin and writer/producer Ted Griffin. Making of; Theatrical trailer.

THE artistry of the conman is given an enticing makeover by Sir Ridley Scott in Matchstick Men, an ingenious little crime caper which functions on many levels.

Taking a break from his more epic productions, such as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, the British director has assembled a cracking ensemble cast, who duly deliver a part-thriller, part-family drama that dazzles for all of the right reasons.

Nicolas Cage stars as veteran con artist, Roy, who has made a career for himself out of swindling the vulnerable, with the assistance of his eager protégé, Frank (Sam Rockwell), despite the fact that he is an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe (and chain smoker), with no personal relationship to call his own.

As his idiosyncrasies threaten to undermine his criminal activity, however, he is forced to seek help in the form of Bruce Altman’s psycho-analyst, a path which ultimately leads him to the 14-year-old Angela (Alison Lohman), the daughter he always thought, but never confirmed, he had.

Her arrival, while at first disruptive, eventually allows Roy to experience the joys of fatherhood, but place a question mark over his partnership with Frank, as well as jeopardising one of the biggest scams the two have put together.

To complicate matters still further, Angela develops a fascination for her father’s way of life and, against his better judgement, eventually convinces him to teach her some of the tricks of his trade.

Given that Sir Ridley has developed a reputation as one of cinema’s leading visual stylists, it is refreshing to find the director almost reigning himself in for a while, allowing his actors to take centre stage and really bringing out the best in Ted Giffin’s effervescent script.

The showy camera techniques are reserved for accentuating Roy’s personal neuroses, and never threaten to undermine or detract from the emotional core of the movie, which is the relationship between Roy and Angela.

As such, both Cage and Lohman excel, with the latter, in particular, proving to be something of a revelation, expertly tapping into the confused adolescence of her teenage role, despite the fact that she is approaching her 24th birthday in real life.

The scenes between the two are touchingly portrayed, without ever becoming too sentimental, and help the movie succeed as well as it does on such a personal level.

Strong, too, is the chemistry between Cage and the ever-dependable Rockwell, whose relationship is played in similar fashion to the partnership between George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven - it’s no coincidence that both films came from the pen of the same scriptwriter and just a minor quibble that Rockwell isn’t allowed more screen time.

The cons, too, are neatly played, with Sir Ridley striking a near-perfect balance between the many facets of the story - and pulling off a number of his own little cons along the way.

The trick, for audiences, therefore, is not to allow this smart little movie to pass you by.

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