|Having built his reputation around big-budget action films like Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, and Hannibal, director Ridley Scott takes a very different route in the drama, Matchstick Men. Relying more on the physical comedy of star Nicholas Cage and the dramatic abilities of Cage's co-stars, Scott has made a picture on a smaller scale than his previous productions, but has still kept some of the big-budget sensibility of his past productions. Fortunately for Scott, the three head-lining stars all portray their roles with strength and a fine sense of comic timing.|
And if Nicholas Cage forces his character to be so intense at some points so as to border on annoyance, perhaps Scott intended for the audience to have less than stellar opinions of the character for the first hour of the film. It is not until the second half - or perhaps even the last third - of the film that the characters, particularly Cage's character, become worth investing one's emotional energy in. The development of the relationship between Alison Lohman's character (she plays Cage's daughter, Angela) and Cage is the high-point of the film, but as a viewer, it's still difficult to allow an emotional connection to the characters form.
Sam Rockwell (who plays Cage's con-artist protégé), makes his character charming through his natural comedic abilities, but because the story really isn't focused on him until the latter half of the film, it's not really required of the audience to like or dislike his character. Though his swift recital of dialogue ensures that each scene he appears in is filled to the gills with hilarity. Even in most of the more serious scenes, Rockwell makes light of every situation, particularly those that involve the neurosis of Cage's character, who has a severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder and a series of ticks that plague him (and the audience) throughout the film.
Employing his usual composer, Ridley again works with Hans Zimmer to create a score that doesn't screen a strong bass-line like their earlier collaborations, but still exists as an intense background "pillow" for the visuals to rely upon. But the music certainly doesn't push the emotional points of the film. The actors themselves do that and the music is simply a back up, and a very good one at that. Scott and Zimmer continuously add scores to their films that enhance and enrich to entire product rather than force the audience to "feel" a specific way about a character or scene.
There's nothing worse than the untimely intrusion of music into a scene where the actors aren't able to handle the emotional weight of their characters. Suffice it to say that none of the actors in Matchstick Men have that problem. But the music and acting aren't the only impressive aspects of the movie. The production design and costuming were created with an emphasis on the smoke-filled jazz of the early 1960's, and the era seems to have faithfully reproduced in the film even though it takes place in the present. Cage's house is one of the flat-roofed houses in the Hollywood Hills with giant sliding glass doors and furnishings that seem to remind one of a hotel room in a Howard Johnson's.
Even the clothing worn by the characters seems to have been chosen with Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack in mind (except for Alison Lohman's wardrobe, which resembles that of a modern teenaged girl). Though the odd furnishings and wardrobe choices seem at odds with the present day, the visuals they create make for quite an interesting cinematographic view of Los Angeles. The trash-lined streets and decrepit buildings lining the LA streets are painted in such a romantic view, that the poverty and dirt doesn't seem so unwelcoming.
Though I gave this film three stars, that's the rating that it seemed to warrant by the closing titles. This film is not immediately rewarding. For the first half or so, viewers might find it hard to keep their attention on the screen as the narrative is sometimes slow-moving and Nicholas Cage, arguably the main character of the film, makes it a difficult task for viewers to care about the destiny of his character. The experience overall is a rewarding one, if you're determined enough to stay until the credits. Impressive comedic offerings from Sam Rockwell, powerful character development from Alison Lohman, and an accurate and sometimes overbearing performance from Nicholas Cage ensure that the film doesn't lack for talent. A solid picture with few failings can mostly be blamed on the pacing in the first half of the film.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.