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Matchstick Men (Blu-ray Review)

9 Nov, 2015 By: Mike Clark

$14.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman.

Let it be said that I’ve made as many wisecracks about Nicolas Cage’s propensity for headlining multiplex floor-scrapers as anyone — that is, the DOAs he apparently takes on to satisfy his tax woes for the Feds (think of the old print ads for Ghost Rider, where he’s riding a motorcycle through flames). But when he’s good and has watchable material, he’s really good, though it helps when he has a role that can indulge his standing as the screen’s premier Titan of Twitch — an honor he’s taken over from the young James Spader, who seems to have settled down a little with advancing age and weight. One such Cage role was in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and another is the memorable turn here as an obsessive-compulsive con artist who likes leaving his lair only a little more than Dracula does during the daylight hours.

This is, of all things, a Ridley Scott movie — one of those (like, say, Someone to Watch Over Me or The Good Year or The Counselor) that don’t seem to go with the usual or at least frequent program. Deservedly riding high right now with The Martian, Sir Ridley has had one of the most erratically up-and-down careers of the modern era’s major filmmakers, though maybe it’s relative: I like The Good Year and The Counselor quite a bit despite their overall drubbings by the critical masses while being fairly lukewarm on Gladiator (though I’ll give it another shot someday). Matchstick Men is one of the half-dozen or more Ridleys that I really love and certainly one of the few grifter pics with a family-guy dimension (and it’s germane to the story).

Because this adaptation of an Eric Garcia novel is almost all things “con,” the narrative is a spoiler minefield when talking to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Like a lot of ultimately satisfying movies, MM knows the value of a strong opening, and here we have Cage and partner Sam Rockwell offering a skillfully delineated version of the telephone scam we’ve all gotten that promises us a new car or otherwise prohibitively expensive vacation trip as a “promotion” that will require financial outlay on our parts and/or personal credit card information. All this takes place in an office whose art director was apparently a specialist in minimalism.

Cage stutters a lot when in his frequent states of agitation, but he incrementally settles down (a little) when reunited with an adolescent daughter he’s never seen (Alison Lohman) and who basically falls into his lap at someone else’s suggestion. I could never figure out Lohman’s career, which sputtered out with some disappointing performances that mystified me then and now given her smashing achievement here. A Scott virtue that almost no one ever mentions is his flair for casting, which has served him well from Alien right up through today (picking the right actors is one of the reasons The Martian’s pace never flags in nearly two-and-a-half hours, even though it’s predominantly about a single guy lost in space). There are also bullseye turns by Bruce Altman as Cage’s shrink and Bruce McGill as a key Cage-Rockwell target — one so slimy and crooked that we root for him to be taken. And can it be a coincidence that the actresses who play Cage’s long ago wife and a woman who catches his eye in a convenience store look something alike (and subtly so, without rubbing our noses in it)?

Anyway, I’m glad to see Men out on a very decent Blu-ray, though given Warner’s comprehensive labors to make its library available, I’m surprised a movie this relatively recent took so long to make it. Though an underperformer at the box office, it did pick up a cult in the home market, and even a dozen years ago, the critics were mostly enthusiastic during the theatrical run. Meanwhile, Cage keeps plowing along, and every once in a while (as with last year’s Joe), he falls into a movie that keeps us from abandoning all hope.


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