Nicolas Cage in: Matchstick Men

Matchstick Men

Released in 2003 ▪ Review posted July 21, 2014

“From the time I was six years old, everything in my world had to be perfect.”

Marc Summers

After a seemingly endless run of terrible Nicolas Cage films, we finally have a gem in Matchstick Men. Cage plays Roy Waller, a small-time con artist. When the movie starts, Waller and his partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell), are running a scam that involves bonus gifts and overpriced water filtration systems. Just as surely as the gifts never materialize, Waller and Mercer always vanish.

The pairing of Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell is appealing. Casting them as con men co-workers is intriguing and a potential source for a lot of entertainment. In Matchstick Men, Cage is spastic and prone to extreme highs and lows but is also adept at playing to his scene partner’s best strengths. Rockwell, also spastic, is complementary to his scene partners in return. The idea makes perfect sense in theory and in practice, delivering snappy dialogue and clever relationships.

Not only is the pairing good, but Cage has a huge “fighting for.” His character is a con man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Genius is achieved.

Generally, the grander the scale of Cage’s goals, the better the film. Alcoholism, total mental collapse, Satan—these are all things that Nicolas Cage’s acting style is good at fighting for or against. Obsessive behavior nicely fits into this macabre list and Cage plays it with daring authenticity. Unlike Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, Cage uses his character’s resigned, fatalistic attitude toward his disorder to portray an underlying frustration with having to be obsessive all the damn time. It makes the viewer feel sympathetic towards a character that could have been very irritating.

Adding to Waller’s host of problems is the sudden appearance of an estranged daughter. Wanting to reconnect, she slowly becomes more involved in Waller’s cons, and their on-screen relationship deftly distracts the viewer from an ending that would have otherwise been predictable. Nicolas Cage, proven to work well with kids, nails it. Matchstick Men is a good movie.

Without Cage holding things down in his role as the lovable lunatic, much of the movie would have come off as cheesy or mechanical. The territory is familiar in every direction but Cage casts it in a special light. The movie is better for him, and vice versa.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Did his performance make the movie worse?
It made it better!