Review: “Matchstick Men”

When he’s good, Ridley Scott can change filmgoing forever (eg. “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Gladiator”). When he’s bad, he’s just extremely mediocre (eg. “1492”, “G.I. Jane”, “White Squall”). That being the case, ‘Matchstick’ is then an example of Scott at his worst.

The two films many will compare this to are “Adaptation” as this is yet another Nic Cage oddball nervous character comedy (he’s the new Woody Allen), and “Catch Me If You Can” as like Spielberg its a light-hearted caper romp from a director better known for more serious epic dramas & actioneers with an FX bent. Both those movies are far superior to this poor man’s Grifters, its a low-rent comedy/drama that without its star power would be nothing more than a cable movie at best in regards to its material (explains why I nearly fell asleep twice at the screening, the first time I’ve done that in a cinema in an age).

Scott as a director is interesting. Most of the time he’s great – he understands pacing, isn’t afraid to try new things and best of all has a strong visual artistry. However he’s also at whim of the script and his few bad films aren’t bad per se but commit a far worse crime – they’re boring. Here though with his limitations to Cage’s apartment, office and some mundane locales like a domestic airport, even Scott’s sense of visuals can’t hide the fact that this feels very cheap.

It starts out as a film about low-rent con artists but then tries adding family drama, a touch of “Analyze This” style neuroses humour, and then in its second-half a not so great scheme in the mix. It never really gets the mix quite right and suffers as a result, especially when compared to the similar but much better con-artist movie this year – “Confidence”.

Like that movie, the strengths of this film comes from the performances. Though his character is no Charlie Kaufman, Cage still gives Frank a decent set of neuroses and manages to make many of the films slower scenes bearable. Rockwell once again shines in a supporting part here, even if he’s given VERY little to do. Lohman delivers a remarkable turn for a young girl and its the scenes between her and Cage which somewhat redeem this from being a total wash.

The ‘I just discovered I’ve got a daughter’ subplot is one of the few things here which doesn’t feel forced and demonstrates some well-played character interaction. Its a shame that as the film progresses, that falls to the wayside and ultimately sabotages itself. This has been in the can for a while which is understandable as its a hard film to market and has a limited appeal. This is going to be one of those films you’ll either love or despise – count me in the latter.