Running with Matchsticks

Nicholas Cage is often fascinating to watch in this tale of two con artists looking to pull of a big, clean, safe scam.  The film is a pleasant enough diversion with some promising opening scenes of Cage, who plays an obsessive compulsive struggling with medication, massive guilt, and stray bits of carpet lint.  Cage almost loses it completely in an early scene when, during one of his swindles, a potential financial victims opens a sliding door and…leaves it open.
When Cage’s life is complicated by the arrival of a long-lost teenage daughter, his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) schtick becomes kind of over-baked and his nervous ticks become more prominent, though for some inexplicable reason, he plays some scenes straight, as if to give himself (and us) a break. It is a bit hard to swallow the OCD angle to his con-artist character.  Cage seems more like a liability for his partner (Sam Rockwell), than a help, but the film needs to move on with the story, and so Cage is able to play his victims with relative confidence.

Sam Rockwell very good. He plays the con-artist partner role effortlessly, and steals almost every scene he shares with Cage. His charismatic performance hints at emotional depths that should serve him well in his central role in the soon-to-be-released Choke.

Cage’s teenage daughter, played by Alison Lohman, is a bit bland, although the scene where she helps her father to con a woman in a laundromat is lively enough.

By the end of Matchstick Men, the filmmakers seem to feel guilty for asking us to sympathize with someone who steals for a living so they try to overcompensate by bringing Cage through an emotional, psychological, and professional meat grinder.  A twist ending makes the film you just watched seem like a more fascinating one than it did while you were actually watching it.  That “aha!” ending almost seems borrowed from another movie: one with enough mystery and suspense to prepare you for such a satisfying revelation.  If only the the filmmakers had been able to transfer some of the tension and confusion of Cage’s character to the viewer so that we could have a few more question marks to carry through the film until we reach the answers in the end. As it is, we get answers for questions we didn’t know we were supposed to be asking.

Like I said, this film is diverting enough, but its conclusion made me feel like the rest of the movie had diverted me from how fascinating it all actually was.

The face of a man who understands everything now.

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