Plot: What’s it about?
The world knows Ridley Scott for his more popular movies like “Alien”, “Thelma & Louise” and “Blade Runner”. Of course, he was shunned at the Oscars a few years ago when his “Gladiator” won statues for Best Picture and Best Actor (among others), but he was left high and dry when it came to Best Director. He was even up for another Oscar the next year with “Black Hawk Down”, but if he didn’t win the year before; the odds were slim to none that he’d walk away with the statue that year. He didn’t. With “Matchstick Men”, he went back to his more quirky roots and delivered one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen in a while. Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman make up the cast and if these three don’t have chemistry, then I don’t know who does. As good as Scott’s movies are, though, this didn’t seem to fit his persona. He’s delivered great War and Science Fiction movies and the closest thing I can think to compare this movie to is “The Grifters” or “The Sting”. Maybe it’s something about movies about con men.
Nicholas Cage plays Roy, a man who I would describe somewhere between Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man” and Jack Nicholson’s “Melvin” from “As Good as it Gets”. This is an odd combination, to be sure, but a fitting description to characterize his nature. Roy and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) are con men. They’re not the low end cons who try and get change for a $20 when they paid a $10, but rather the kind who go after wealthy businessmen and cold call people telling them they won a trip to Hawaii. This pays the bills and allows them to lead a good lifestyle, but Roy describes that his conscience does get to him. After losing his pills, Roy visits a psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) to try and get his prescription refilled. Through a series of events, Roy is able to get in touch with his long lost daughter (Alison Lohman) and his life changes when he learns that he is a father. Angela (Lohman) isn’t your normal 14 year-old, she seems pretty cool with her father’s ticks and constant cleanliness, but she’s also a teenager and has thrown a “wrench in the works” of Roy’s life. But all of this is just the setup for what the movie is really about. Frank and Roy are trying to take local tycoon (Bruce McGill) for a large sum of cash. They exchange amounts of his foreign currency and, in a bit of financial trickery, are able to skim the money off the top and pocket the profit. They’re attempting to clean him out and make a huge score.
Now as one might imagine, things don’t always go according to plan. After all, what fun would there be in watching something if things went as they were supposed to? To say any more might be to spoil the movie; well it would spoil the movie. Suffice it to say that Cage is better here than I’ve seen him in a long time. He has the right temperament for this role and manages to pull it off. I even found myself laughing out loud several times at his mannerisms and obsessions. Cage isn’t alone, though, as Sam Rockwell plays his part with a “cat ate the canary smile” and is most entertaining in doing so. He’s the perfect polar opposite to Roy and the scenes with both actors in them are among the best in the film. While this was a critically-acclaimed movie, it somehow got looked over when it came to the Oscars. The screenplay by Nicholas and Ted Griffin is funny, with just the appropriate amounts of drama mixed in. Ridley Scott has shown time and time again that he’s one of the more talented men behind the camera and “Matchstick Men” is certainly no exception. For fans of the genre, director or the actors; this one is a no-brainer.
Video: How does it look?
As a new to DVD title, Warner has released this in separate Widescreen and Full-Screen versions. The widescreen was reviewed here and the 2.35:1 anamorphic image is brilliant. The palette used has a lot of washed out colors, with only a few scenes having “natural” light (also Roy doesn’t “…like the outdoors” so not many shots are filmed outside). The clarity in some scenes is amazing and I marvel at how much definition we can see in the background, faces and everything else in the frame. Take a look at a VHS movie from a few years back and the difference is amazing. The black levels are right on target with the flesh tones being a bit lighter than usual (due to the under-saturated nature of the film). Edge enhancement isn’t a problem in the least and the only thing from this being a perfect transfer is a few scratches on the print. Aside from that, viewers will be more than satisfied with the way this is presented.
Audio: How does it sound?
As far as audio goes, there are two Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on the disc; an English and a French. While this isn’t the most dynamic audio you’ll hear (certainly not like “Gladiator” or “Black Hawk Down”), it does have a few moments that stand out. For the most part, though, the soundtrack is limited to the front three channels and the surrounds are only active a few times throughout the movie. Dialogue is crystal clear. The front channels bear the brunt of the songs played throughout (a mix of jazzy 50’s songs by Sinatra and the like – think “Swingers”) and they all sound great. There’s not much more to say, a fairly standard-sounding track here and again, viewers won’t be disappointed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Though a plethora of supplements aren’t found, the ones that are there do have substance. First up is a 75 minute documentary divided into three parts, “Pre-Production”, “Production” and “Post-Production”. This literally follows director Ridley Scott through the process of making the movie, starting out six weeks before filming begins (he is watching audition tapes on a TV) and continuing until the last stages of Post Production. This, like the documentary on “Lost in Translation”, really gives a feel for what it’s like to make a movie even if we’re getting the “Cliffs Notes” version of it. Next up is an audio commentary with Scott and the two writers, Ted and Nicholas Griffin. It appears as if the two tracks were recorded separately, but suffice it to say that Ridley Scott delivers a great track. Only a few directors have sat down and given commentary tracks to most all of their work and Scott is one of them. It’s directors like this that make the format so great. Also included is a theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen. All in all, a great movie with excellent picture and sound and enough supplements to whet the appetite. Highly recommended.