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Don't be surprised if Nicholas Cage surfaces somewhere on the Oscar ballot for his performance as a germ-phobic, ritual driven con artiste named Roy. Besieged with nervous tics, uncontrollable urges and erratic twitches, he copes as best he can by living in an ultra-sanitized house and popping illegally acquired prescription pills.
Still, in spite of his personal idiosyncrasies, he's become a connoisseur of crime, a kind of authority on flimflam. His latest scam is selling water purification systems, along with the promise of high-end rewards like cars, jewelry and exotic trips. While the prizes never materialize on the doorsteps of the unsuspecting clientele, Roy and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) have managed to build up a tidy little sum of cash for themselves.
Now they are ready to play for big bucks.
Holing up in a seamy bar full of barely clad strippers (who get plenty of screen time), the pair of swindlers set the stage for their next con. Using curiosity as their bait, they plan to fiddle with the bank accounts of a wealthy, but greedy businessman (Bruce McGill) who's heading to the Cayman Islands.
However, Roy's orderly agenda hits a speed bump when he's persuaded by his psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) to clear up some issues from his past, namely the ill-timed departure of his pregnant wife.
Guilt-ridden by the thought of his abusive behavior and the possibility of a fatherless child, Roy has suffered nearly a decade and a half of torment. Finally, with the help of his doctor, he takes measures to find his offspring.
Bright, sassy and 14 years old, Angela (Alison Lohman) blows into his life, takes over the bathroom, as teenage girls are wont to do, and scatters every hint of routine. Preferring coffee and ice cream over eggs and toast for breakfast, his unruly daughter makes Roy question his initial desire to be a parent until she begs for a chance to try her hand at his trade.
Working the system like a natural, Angela proves she may indeed have inherited something more than elbows from good old dad. But the challenge of taking on another protégé in the confidence game becomes more disruptive than Roy ever envisioned.
Tightly written and well directed, the crew behind Matchstick Men has paid careful attention to even minute details in Roy's stymied life. Bottles and bottles of household cleaners, the scruffy sound of socks on clean carpet and habitually repeated routines present an intimate view of the gifted grifter's neurotic world.
The rose-colored depiction of a con's life along with a teen who indulges in crime and the occasional cigarette and beer may rule out viewing by those similarly aged. Yet even adult audiences may be disappointed by the inclusion of dancing girls and verbal schlock. Given the film's engaging plot and tense turns, these distractions are truly unnecessary.
Matchstick Men is rated PG-13: for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Same Rockwell, Alison Lohman