Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Matchstick Men

2003, US, directed by Ridley Scott

Even after almost thirty years of filmmaking, there's no mistaking Ridley Scott's origins in advertising, nor his continued interest in the visuals of that medium. His Los Angeles is all slick surfaces and bright light, the city's artifice very apparent. Of course, a preoccupation with appearances is perfectly suited to a film about con men. Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell play hard-working con men adept at bilking the vulnerable, the gullible, and occasionally the plain greedy, out of their savings, one con at a time. Early in the film, Cage, who suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, discovers that he has a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) from a relationship that went south years previously, and he attempts to re-connect with her in an effort to add at least some meaning, and perhaps karmic points, to his life. Inevitably, she becomes caught up in some of his scheming, notwithstanding his attempts to keep her at arm's length, and his plans for one last con begin to unravel fast. Cage's part is the kind of thing actors love: the character comes off his meds and exhibits all manner of tics, but director Scott wisely doesn't allow this to become more of a distraction than necessary. Rockwell is all manic energy while Alison Lohman does a fine, lower-key job as the daughter; it's hard to believe she's in her mid-20's. There are plot contrivances aplenty here, but this is a fine bit of genre filmmaking, with performances that were under-appreciated at award time.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States