How much you enjoy Matchstick Men will largely depend on how much you buy Nicolas Cage’s performance as an obsessive-compulsive con artist. If you think his long series of tics add up to a compelling performance, you’ll be happy to find it while watching TV late at night for years to come. If you don’t think they add up, you’re in for a long night.
Matchstick Men tells the story of Cage’s con artist, who discovers he has a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) at the same time his partner (Sam Rockwell) is pressuring him to carry off one big score that will set them both up for the foreseeable future. Unlike other heist movies, such as The Italian Job or Ocean’s Eleven, there’s no elaborate scheme to carry out and it’s basically the story of the three central characters.
Cage’s performance here is wonderful. His tics never lose sight of the human being at the center of them. Rockwell is likably riff-raffish, while Lohman brings real heart to a 14-year-old girl who is just finding her father.
Director Ridley Scott rarely does small stories focused on people. Here, he figures out a way for his usually showy, visual techniques to enhance the performances. Likewise, the screenplay by Nicholas and Ted Griffin is slyly clever and never overly showy.
This movie is a few steps shy of greatness. The last scene (which takes place “one year later”) doesn’t work at all. The movie’s portrayal of mental disorders could feel like an insult, unless one thinks about it in the context of Cage’s character.
Despite the last scene, I would recommend this movie solely for its ending, which manages to be subtly devastating. See Cage’s work in the last ten minutes or so of this film to see one of our finest actors doing his very best work.
4.5 stars (out of 5)