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  Matchstick Men  
  Ridley Scott  
  Nicholas Griffin & Ted Griffin, based on the book by Eric Garcia  
  Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, and Bruce Altman  
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Okay, I’ve got a fundamental weakness for “the art of the con” movies. You know, Sneakers, Ocean’s 11, that kind of thing. The fact that the early commercials for this film used sound cues from Ocean’s 11 kind of sold it along those lines, but it’s telling that the current commercials aren’t using it so much. Overall, the elements of the con game in this film fall away to the great job done by the actors. When you walk away from this movie, you may not be so wowed by the artfulness of the scam, but you’ll probably be talking about the way that the characters were brought to life.

Cage plays Roy, an accomplished con artist, flim-flam man, matchstick man, whatever you want to call him, who works with Frank, played by Rockwell. Roy and Frank are pulling some of the small-time scams that Clark Howard will warn you about on a regular basis, but Frank wants to pull a big score and have a little walking around money like Roy did long ago. Roy’s got his own problems to deal with; a combination of mild OCD, agoraphobia, and Tourette’s Syndrome are by and large held under control while he takes the under-the-counter pills that he’s been getting from his psychiatrist, but when the doctor skips town Roy’s world falls apart a little. Frank finds another therapist (Bruce Altman) for Roy, who again slips him “samples” on a regular basis, but who also encourages him to try to deal with some of the issues that may be at the root of his neuroses, specifically to get some closure on the abused first-trimester-pregnant wife who walked out on him fifteen years ago. The good doctor serves as intermediary to reconcile Roy with his now fourteen-year-old daughter, played by a twenty-three-year-old Lohman.

I was really nervous about how all of Roy’s particular psychological problems would be portrayed, especially since there seems to be a trend to not be so tender-hearted towards the disabled recently (Farelly Brothers, anyone?). But even though Cage seems to have taken a page or two from David Schwimmer’s acting book, he really does a remarkable job of giving a sympathetic portrayal of someone who isn’t someone to be laughed at, and isn’t someone to pity, but who is dealing with these neuroses as a fact of his life. He’s not heroic or hilarious, he’s just Roy.

It’s high time I became more familiar with the Sam Rockwell oevre, as well. I really had all the intentions in the world to see his portrayal of Chuck Barris in 2002’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind when it was in theaters, but I’ll have to rent the DVD someday soon and get back to you. I can definitely say I’m a fan of his work in Galaxy Quest and Charlie’s Angels. If you saw Basquiat, you’ll remember him from there too. This guy’s just got real acting talent; keep an eye out for him. As far as Alison Lohman goes, I may see her in White Oleander some day, or I may try to find her performance in Kraa! The Sea Monster on DVD. I’m really looking forward to the director’s commentary on that.

The plot is what carries most con movies, but it kind of falls short on this one. I was anticipating things I shouldn’t have been anticipating had the script been better written. I guessed too many twists and turns to be completely satisfied. Still, the really good work of the actors saves this from being a waste of time. They somehow found a way to make people entertaining to watch without being buffoons or testosterone-addled action figures. Not something to pay full price for, perhaps, but an entertaining time nonetheless.

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