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Matchstick Men
Comedy-Drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/116mins
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, Sam Rockwell
Director: Ridley Scott
Warner Bros.


Nick Cage gives one of his best performances yet as a neurosis-ridden conman — sorry, con artist — whose life is turned upside down by both his past and his occupation. The film also gives us an unexpected change of direction from director Ridley Scott.

Roy (Nicholas Cage) is a mess. He is a mass of tics, is pathologically obsessed with cleanliness and ritual; he is divorced, friendless, has no interests and dines exclusively on canned tuna. The only thing that holds his life together is his job: conning people out of their hard-earned cash — a job in which he takes considerable pride, hence the insistence he is a con artist and no mere con man. Out of the blue he discovers he has a daughter (Alison Lohman) from his long-finished marriage, and after the years of living in an emotional vacuum meeting the girl, now fourteen, upsets his carefully balanced life and leads to an audacious plot twist that turns the film and the audience on its head.

Matchstick Men cleverly makes use of Hollywood cliché offering us apparently familiar characters and situations only to take them off in different directions, thus continually undermining the viewer’s expectations and creating a film that is more than you assume it to be.

But don’t get too excited: this is Hollywood and because this is Hollywood everything must be sweet in the end. There are laws about this, I am sure, and Roy’s redemption comes along just when it must for a trite off-the-shelf ending that lets down the hard work of the previous two hours.

Cage carefully studied the plight of obsessive compulsives in the hope of creating a stereotype-busting depiction. Time will tell whether he has helped create understanding for sufferers of chronic neuroses, but we can be sure he has turned in a performance that deserves awards.

Ridly Scott has eschewed the epic and spectacular for a closely and thoughtfully filmed drama. The director labelled Matchstick Men a comedy, but he has made something far bigger than a regular thigh-slapper.

Review by Chris Page

 
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