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.


Nic Cage flashed his butt in a hospital gown

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 is.

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.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director/producer Ridley Scott, writer Nicolas Griffin and writer/producer Ted Griffin

  • "Tricks of the Trade" a three-part, intimate day-to-day account of the filmmaking process with director Ridley Scott

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

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!

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

British Perspective ...

  • General UK consensus: two and a half stars. Mail 8/10, Telegraph 4/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 4/10, Sun 9/10, Express 8/10, Mirror 8/10, BBC 3/5.

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Excellent "sting" film, but probably not what you expect. Can't really tell you why because it would spoil a good flick.

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