Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Matchstick Men didn’t light my fire
Review by Sombrero Grande

I know several people who really dislike Nicolas Cage as an actor. Me? I’ve never really been one way or the other about him…until I saw Matchstick Men. Granted, he wasn’t bad throughout the film, but his forced tics really ticked me off. When he was playing it “normal”—or maybe just forgetting to twitch and blink and whatnot—Cage was entirely watchable, but all his “acting” twitchy reminded me of the worst kind of acting: acting like you’re acting. You could almost see it in his eyes: “Okay, Nic, time to twitch. I haven’t spasmed in a while, so I guess I should now.” The moment in this film that I would consider the worst offender of this is when he actually verbally points out his tics to his therapist. I can picture the line written in the script with the screenwriters envisioning that an experienced actor could play it subtly, but Cage nearly jerks and jolts himself right off of the therapists’ couch as he utters the sentence.

Cage plays a self-described “con artist” with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Nothing is ever really explained about his condition, so I’ll simply chalk it up to being a character quirk that was meant to delineate him from other con-men characters in other films. Jack Nicholson had a much more flushed out and well-played obsessive-compulsive character in As Good As It Gets, but that’s a whole other story.

Matchstick Men's story concerns the change in Cage’s character’s life once he discovers he has a 14-year-old daughter. Things get pretty predictable as his tics begin to go away as he starts showing concern for her, focusing on her instead of the fuzz on his carpet or leaves in his pool. She wants in on the scamming; he’s hesitant; she gets involved in a big score; something goes wrong; yadda yadda yadda. Whenever a movie shows two people getting out of a car singing and overly happy, you just know there’s going to be a negative plot twist awaiting them in their darkened house. There is, however, one really good twist near the end of the film that almost saved it for me…but, seeing as how it was one of the only things I really liked about this film, I won’t say any more about it.

Another aspect I enjoyed about this film was the way in which the cinematography and editing were really able to convey what Cage’s character must have been feeling inside. From smart lighting choices to jump cuts and cleverly executed speeding up and slowing down of the film, these filmmaking techniques were able to convey what Cage’s acting couldn’t. The character’s manic tics felt fake, but the character’s frenzied world felt real.

At one point in the film the daughter says, “You’re not a bad guy, you’re just not a very good one.” This isn’t a bad film, it’s just…you get the idea. Despite a good twist at the end (I’d say on par with The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects), effective editing and often sparkling cinematography, the annoying and amateurish acting tics, predictability and lack of genuine interest in the characters extinguish Matchstick Men.


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