Decade Reviews – Matchstick Men (2003) – Reviewed 6/7/04 & 6/29/14

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A decade ago, I was a teenager in high school. I had my first job at my local movie theater and used my newfound disposable income to get a Netflix subscription.

Over the summer of 2004, 17/18 year old Matt wrote 21 movie reviews and posted them on IMDb. Recently, I dug up these reviews and decided to revisit each movie and evaluate how my tastes have changed over the last decade.

So for each of these posts, I will write a present-day review and then copy/paste the original review after. Then, I’ll compare the two and give a summary at the end. You can find all the reviews here, follow me on Twitter here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, lets talk about Matchstick Men.

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My 2014 Review

In the grand scope of Nicolas Cage’s erratic roller coaster of a career, 2003’s Matchstick Men seems a little forgotten. When the Internet speaks of the legend of Cage, the conversation falls into talk about bees, hair and the trivia that he’s a Coppola. Unfortunately, Ridley Scott’s fatherhood amongst thieves tale gets no traction. It’s really a shame.

Based on a novel by Eric Garcia, Matchstick Men is about Roy (Nic Cage), a con man with severe OCD-like quirks who discovers he has a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman). He reconnects with her just as he and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) prepare to pull off a big job against an unsuspecting target (Bruce McGill).

From the start of the movie, it’s clear that these men are clever. There’s an elaborate 2-tiered phone scam they run at the opening of the movie that demonstrates their versatility in conning and shows the audience that they are masters at their deception. This sets the stage for a caper movie that, before long, disguises itself as a parenthood drama.

matchstick men nic cageIt’s common to think that Nic Cage is a classically trained over actor. His performance as Roy doesn’t necessarily absolve him of these allegations. However, the screenplay and the character himself really call for an actor of Cage’s particular skill set. I don’t know what the atmosphere was on the set, but I’m forced to credit Ridley Scott for his assumed role in reigning in Cage’s more over the top quirks and deriving a strong performance out of him that fits the movie well.

Cage is good in this movie. However, it’s Sam Rockwell who truly shines as Roy’s protégé Frank. Rockwell plays off Cage’s quirks and anxiety with biting sarcasm and a carefree attitude that brings their odd couple partnership full circle in several different ways.

Alison-Lohman-Matchstick-Men-screencaps-alison-lohman-7480206-1016-570Alison Lohman rounds out the main cast with an impressive performance as Angela. The movie has distinct changes in tone and lighting when navigating between crook drama and father/daughter bonding flick. In the latter’s sequences, the movie is dependent on Lohman and Cage’s chemistry. The pair work beautifully together and their scenes together really help the movie succeed.

Matchstick Men is a somewhat underrated entry in the mythos of one of Hollywood’s most peculiar talents. It’s an engaging combination of caper and heartfelt drama. After the plotlines converge and the expected chaos ensues, the dust settles in a way that’s satisfying (if not just a tad bit “safe”). Nevertheless, it’s a highly enjoyable movie that’s worthy of just a tad more recognition than it seems to be given.

Obsessive Grade: Rent Digitally – Worth spending money on a temporary copy but not necessarily worth the effort of leaving your couch.

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My 2004 Review

Thoughts on Matchstick Men!

7 June 2004

Matchstick Men has been out for a while now and, until it was recommended to me by a friend, I had no interest in seeing it. I finally got around to renting it and by about the halfway point I found myself liking it a lot.

Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell were great as the two con artist partners as was Alison Lohman who was a very convincing 14 year old (although she really is around 24 years old)! The way I gauge how much I like movies is by the movies “buyability.” If I like it well enough to buy it then of course it is a good movie. At the halfway point I thought it was good enough to buy, maybe previously viewed for around 10 bucks. My opinion changed from buying it used to buying it ASAP when I saw the ending. The ending was unexpected and made me rethink what I had just seen.

When I first saw the trailer for this I saw that Ridley Scott was the director. The first thing I thought of when I heard Ridley Scott was Gladiator and then Black Hawk Down, I was pretty surprised to see him directing something like this. Scott did a tremendous job with this movie. Seeing some scenes through the eyes of Cage’s character as things and people around him were sped up frequently was pretty cool and the final 20 minutes were just as impressive. I would definitely recommend this to anyone and everyone.

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Summing Up: Then and Now

So I guess Matchstick Men aged pretty well. This was obviously my first time reading this review in ages. It’s a fun read, but wow, I was vague. It makes me feel like I might second-guess this whole project (just wait until you read my review of The Village). Oh well.

It’s revealing how much I attached myself to the ending of the movie 10 years ago. While, yes, the turn in the movie’s closing scenes is memorable, it doesn’t make the movie for me the way that it used to. Watching it now, I was more attached to the father/daughter story and Cage’s character’s relationship with Rockwell.

I’d say I had a more enjoyable time watching Matchstick Men now than I did a decade ago. That’s equally due to my changing tastes and viewing practices over the years as it is to Ridley Scott’s directing. The review in 2004 is also kind of fun as it serves as the genesis of what would become the Obsessive Viewer Grading Scale.

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