Matchstick Men (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
|Matchstick Man is one of those films that it is almost impossible to talk about because every bit of insight one might offer is likely to be a betrayal of the surprises in the script.||
You see, this film is a strange hybrid of a sting
movie and a character study. Imagine Ocean's Eleven if we had really
gotten to know the characters. I mean really know them - their
innermost fears, their family secrets, their worst nightmares.
Imagine if the George Clooney character had been a messy amalgam of
psychological problems: enough phobias to make Howard Hughes seem as
cool and matter-of-fact as Chuck Yaeger, and enough nervous tics to
make Derek Jacobi's Claudius seem as phlegmatic as Ben Stein. Then
add another wrinkle: imagine if Clooney had suddenly been weighted
down by a long-lost pubescent daughter. Finally, add the twist that
the actual sting may not be what the audience is led to believe it
In fact, this script was penned by the same man who wrote Ocean's Eleven, and is imbued with the same sense of Sinatra-worship, except that the hero in this film is not cut from the Greek Epic form, ala Brad Pitt or George Clooney, and has none of the Sinatra/Dino cool, Instead, it is the shambling, twitching, genuinely odd Nic Cage, yet again playing his familiar part of the lunatic trying to function in society, and sometimes failing. When Cage plays this character as a writer, as in Adaptation, he creates the type of eccentric we expect from our authors, his eccentricity representing a danger only to nervous editors worried about his deadlines. In the part of the slick con-man, however, the deep morass of Cage's neuroses represents a quicksand pit hidden on the path of every caper, every sting, no matter how insignificant. This adds to the dramatic tension of the film, because it seems that Cage is always on the very brink of an emotional outburst that will betray him and his associates. When Pitt and Clooney are stinging somebody, we know they will use their charisma to dance around the pitfalls, and we feel certain they will triumph. When Cage encounters a pitfall, we genuinely expect him to blow the entire con, or lose his nerve and call it off. Even if he pulls the grift off, his conscience faces such pangs of guilt that he may well give the money back, as he does once in this film.
The Cage character is such a joyless individual, that his dour world-view infects the entire film. Unlike The Italian Job or Catch Me if You Can, which are recent caper films populated by people who really enjoy scamming, the Nic Cage character in Matchstick Men is a dark, troubled soul who would fit in better with Cusack and Huston in The Grifters.
Matchstick Men has a great director (Ridley
Scott), a great
cast, and a great script. I was impressed with it, and yet I didn't
enjoy it that much. I suppose that had more to do with my
expectations than the film itself. I guess I wanted it to adhere to
the unwritten covenant between sting film makers and sting film
audiences - that there will be certain guilty pleasures delivered.
This film broke that genre convention, and deliberately so. It has
the plot of a sting film, but not the attitude.
While most of the film does work as a character study, certain aspects of the sting suck the wind out of the character development, for reasons which I can't reveal with spoiling the best elements of the plot, and it does have a pretty cool ending!
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