A phobic con artist learns he has a teenage daughter from
a past relationship just as he and his partner land a big score.
Matchstick Men (2003)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Nicholas Griffin and Ted Griffin
Starring Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman,
Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Sheila Kelley
Based on the novel by Eric Garcia
Matchstick Men comes from the era of good Nic Cage films, back when he wasn't just taking anything he could get. Though Cage does ham it up to eleven every chance he gets, he keeps his performance grounded enough to be relatable. It's like he somehow achieved perfect equilibrium with his bizarre performance method. Regardless, the film keeps you on your toes throughout and lays out everything you need to know about the art of the con. Because that's what the film essentially is. A giant con, luring you in with the promise of one movie and then switching it out with a movie you didn't even know you were watching.
Cage plays successful con artist Roy Waller, a highly neurotic and phobic loner who pulls off small-time cons with his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell). Right when they decide to go for a giant score, Roy learns he has a teenage daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman) who he starts to bond with. The relationship between Roy and Angela is really what drives this movie, with the long con blending into the background until the very end. It's the kind of smart filmmaking I've come to expect from Ridley Scott.
What really brings this one home though is the unbelievable twist at the end, which I doubt even the most eagle-eyed viewers won't see coming by a long shot. The decent performances and the occasional Cage outburst already drew me in, but the smart screenplay locked it down. Matchstick Men is a great watch because it's not at all what you expect it to be. Instead, it goes the extra mile to surprise you, and I appreciate that in a movie.