At the Movies: "Matchstick Men’
Everything about “”Matchstick Men” is a con, from the grifters who populate its landscape to the identity of their victims to the place in time they inhabit.You can either go with it and enjoy yourself, or try to pick it apart, piece by piece, and drive yourself mad.Nicolas Cage seems to be among the former as Roy, a self-professed con “”artist,” not a criminal. Between this and last year’s “”Adaptation,” Cage appears to have finally snapped out of the brooding funk that’s marked his performances for the past decade, from “”Leaving Las Vegas” to “”Bringing Out the Dead” to “”Windtalkers.”The light touch from director Ridley Scott suggests that he’s also having the best time he’s had in a while. Far from the relentless gunfire of “”Black Hawk Down,” the bloodshed of “”Hannibal” and the high-tech spectacle of the Oscar-winning “”Gladiator,” Scott offers one of his most personal, intimate films. Here, he’s back in same territory as 1991’s “”Thelma & Louise,” with a story about human beings and all their flaws.Chief among them is Roy, who’s first and foremost conning himself. The obsessive-compulsive disorder that renders him a jumble of tics and grunts is just another scheme, one to mask his loneliness and dissatisfaction.But his symptoms seem to subside when, at the urging of his new psychiatrist (Bruce Altman), he seeks out the daughter he’s never known.Fourteen-year-old Angela (Alison Lohman) quickly moves into his spotless Los Angeles house for the summer, then urges him to teach her all his tricks, which she masters in no time.It’s more than a little similar to “”Paper Moon,” especially since Angela, like Tatum O’Neal’s character in that 1973 film, is a tomboy who’s wise and tough on the outside, vulnerable and sweet on the inside.Just when Nicholas and Ted Griffin’s script (based on the book by Eric Garcia) threatens to turn touchy-feely, Angela weasels her way into a humongous scam that Roy and his protege, Frank (Sam Rockwell), are planning to pull on Frechette (Bruce McGill), a slick, unsuspecting businessman.But nothing is as simple as it seems; Scott even keeps the setting unclear to keep us off-kilter. It’s definitely L.A., probably the same San Fernando Valley where Paul Thomas Anderson set such films as “”Magnolia” and “”Punch-Drunk Love,” with ranch-style houses where the sliding-glass doors lead out to swimming pools that no one ever uses.The decor is all mid-century, though, as is the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra songs that swings across the entire film.All of it is shot beautifully by cinematographer John Mathieson, who also collaborated with Scott on “”Gladiator” and “”Hannibal.” He does wonders with light and shadow, bathing everything in a shimmering, sometimes blinding glow that obscures things further.Something that is clear: the dynamic performances from Lohman and Rockwell.Lohman, who stole “”White Oleander” out from under Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn and Renee Zellweger last year, is 24 but flawlessly portrays a 14-year-old’s hormonal volatility.Rockwell is essentially in Chuck Barris mode again, the role he played last year in “”Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Still, he’s magnetic in a sarcastic, swaggering way.Cage’s twitchy shtick gets annoying, but that’s the point; he probably could have dialed it down a bit and been more effective. But the ease with which he, Lohman and Rockwell play off each other might just be the biggest and best con of all.””Matchstick Men,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language. Running time: 116 minutes. Three stars out of four.—Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:G – General audiences. All ages admitted.PG – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.PG-13 – Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.R – Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.NC-17 – No one under 17 admitted.