Sentimental Trickery

"Matchstick man" is one of many terms that rolls off Nicolas Cage's tongue as he describes himself to Alison Lohman early on in Ridley Scott's film. Cage is a con man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Lohman is the newly reunited teenage daughter he wasn't sure he had. It's a familiar theme of conservative set-in-his-ways confronted with the freedom and emotional messyness of youth. Nothing wrong with a familiar theme so long as it is presented in an interesting way. Cage and Lohman are naturals acting from the raw emotional spaces of these characters, and that's why the movie works.

So why is it Matchstick Men? Well, Cage has a partner in Sam Rockwell, who impatiently endures Cage's eccentricities as they fleece their victims. Together, they set up a risky big time score that frames the climax of the film. Now, the developing father-daughter relationship is the spine of the film, but we can't forget the context in which it all takes place. That's probably enough of a hint about how we reach the emotional ending - the script is certainly clever like the con men of the title.

The film is shot quite beautifully. We are basically trapped in Cage's point-of-view, and the presentation of his condition(s) and his reaction to it are clear and compelling.

One little nitpick: I'm not convinced that Cage's character should be so capable at his "job" - I can imagine it, but I don't know that the film shows how he gets past the OCD and his social phobias.

I also must confess I wanted the film to end differently. The filmmakers are deliberately trying to create this sentimentality in order to execute their ending. Sure, I fell for it. It's a fine line between a film subtlely manipulating your feelings, and simply feeling manipulated. Your enjoyment of the film depends on where you come down on this question.

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