Adapted from a 2002 novel by Eric Garcia, the title, MATCHSTICK MEN, means scam artists, con men, flimflam operators, and the like. Nicholas Cage plays Roy, one of these con men that, with his partner, Mercer, played by Sam Rockwell, attempt to pull off their biggest sting ever. All seems well and good until various family-related complications occur – like the sudden appearance of Roy’s daughter, and all the problems that accompany such a meeting.
Roy is an obsessive compulsive neat freak who, when not taking his medication, finds himself scrubbing his house with disinfectants and vacuuming under his bed, repeating this madness for days on end. His debilitating problems prevent him from even leaving the house, as he fears open spaces. Cage’s character adds to the neurosis several nervous ticks that make him uncomfortably realistic. Roy has accumulated wealth through years of cheating people out of their money. However, his life is empty because he’s had no one to share his life and fortune with… until now?
MATCHSTICK MEN attempts to shed light on the lives of con men, those living just under the veneer of society. People with no social security numbers or medical insurance. Nasty people who call unsuspecting elderly or shut-ins and scam them with expensive promises and confidence tricks. Audiences will hate watching the scams and seeing retirees taken for a ride, but, as the story progresses, Cage charms the audience with his desire to redeem himself with remorse over his sins, and genuine concern for his newly found daughter.
Directed by Ridley Scott, best known for ALIEN, BLADERUNNER, THELMA AND LOUISE, and GLADIATOR, Scott’s movies are typically big hits. His films are paintings, and this one is no exception. Shot with a retro look, it is “1950s meets the 21st Century.” The Rat Pack sound track is a brilliant touch as well.
MATCHSTICK MEN promises to be the 21st Century’s STING. If this promise doesn’t deliver in time, audiences must have been sleeping. Well written and brilliantly acted, the chemistry between Cage and Rockwell is a stroke of casting brilliance. Hollywood newcomer Alison Lohman is painfully believable as a hyperactive rebellious 14-year-old with a lust for scams. One moment she’s absolutely adorable. The audience will almost hope that their sons will end up marrying her. The next moment, the audience will pray their daughters never turn out to be like her.
Despite the brilliant writing, acting, and directing, however, MATCHSTICK MEN has its issues for moral audiences. A major obstacle for discerning parents is the movie’s portrayal of teenage drinking. In one scene, Nicholas Cage allows his daughter to drink beer and smoke in his house. Thus, there’s not much experienced parenting coming from his character. He teaches her how to scam but redeems it by making her return the money she took.
Additionally, some scenes were shot in a stripper bar with girls dancing at poles. The movie has an irritating 33 obscenities, as well as guns, violence, and attempted murder. MATCHSTICK MEN still has that cold, selfish Hollywood feel to it that says go ahead, do it; you’ll surely get away with it.
On the bright side, it is a great story of redemption without having to be caught in the act in order to find true repentance. The very last scene is a tearjerker, love-of-family moment, which is surprising in the wake of many of today’s movies. Audiences watch a man go through a lot (granted he put himself there), but he fights frantically to right his wrongs. Audiences get a sense from Cage’s character that he’s really ready to turn his life around. There is true transformation, which is satisfying.
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SUMMARY: In MATCHSTICK MEN, a phobic con artist and his protégé are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the con artist’s teenage daughter arrives unexpectedly. With incredible writing, directing, and acting, as well as a redemptive outcome, MATCHSTICK MEN is nonetheless spoiled by foul language, sexual content, and a portrayal of teenage drinking and smoking.
(CC, BB, Pa, LL, VV, S, N, AA, D, MM) Redemptive, moral worldview showing the hopelessness and lack of fulfillment resulting from a sinful lifestyle, and secondary pagan worldview glorifying drinking, dancing, stealing, etc.; strong language with at least 33 obscenities; moderate action violence; some sexual depictions of ladies dancing around poles at bar; nudity includes scantily-clad women dancing; portrayals of teenage and adult drinking; smoking; and, lying, stealing, cheating, teenage disrespectfulness, dishonesty, etc.
GENRE: Dramatic Comedy/Crime Story