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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ridley Scott
Cast:
Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Jenny O'Hara, Steve Eastin
Writing Credits:
Eric Garcia (book), Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin

Tagline:
lie. cheat. steal. rinse. repeat.

Synopsis:
A phobic con artist and his protege are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the con artist's teenage daughter arrives unexpectedly.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$13.087 million on 2711 screens.
Domestic Gross
$36.873 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 2/24/2004

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Ridley Scott, Writer Nicholas Griffin, and Writer/Producer Ted Griffin
• “Tricks of the Trade: The Making of Matchstick Men” Documentary
• CD Soundtrack
• Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Matchstick Men (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2004)

Ridley Scott’s career has gone through more ups and downs than Jenna Jameson’s. Look at what followed his resurgence with 1991’s Thelma and Louise. Scott then produced a string of three duds: 1992’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise, 1996’s White Squall, and 1997’s GI Jane.

However, just when Scott seemed destined for the “has-been” bin, 2000’s Oscar-winning Gladiator netted a huge amount of money. He followed this with a $100-million-plus pair from 2001: Hannibal and Black Hawk Down.

One might have assumed that Scott would continue his successful ways with 2003’s Matchstick Men, especially given the presence of established star Nicolas Cage and rising actor Sam Rockwell in front of the camera. Unfortunately, one would assume incorrectly, as Matchstick grossed a weak $36 million in the US.

Perhaps Scott will rebound with 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, but for now, we’ll have to deal with Matchstick. The film focuses on Roy Waller (Cage), a con man with multiple phobias; he displays signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, agoraphobia, tics, and other issues. The extremely neat and organized Roy works with Frank (Rockwell) in some fairly small-time, short-term cons. Frank wants to go for a “long con”, but Roy resists the notion of a more complicated deal like that.

Frank takes meds to try to control his disorders, but he loses them down the sink drain. He starts to freak out after this and can’t control his problems; this means he ends up cleaning obsessively. Eventually Frank convinces Roy to see a psychiatrist named Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) for help. In that session, we find out Roy hasn’t had a relationship with a woman in a decade and last saw his ex 15 years earlier when he left her “with a black eye and a bun in the oven”.

While on new meds, Roy continues to see Dr. Klein, and he discusses his thoughts about his past relationship with Heather (Melora Walters). Klein tells Roy that he talked to Heather; she doesn’t want to talk to him, but his daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) wants to meet him. He chats with the 14-year-old in a park and then takes her to lunch. The pair begin a relationship, and because of this, Roy starts to feel better. He agrees to go along with Frank’s “long con” and they go after Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill). In the meantime, Roy spends more and more time with Angela, and he eventually tells her what he does for a living. He even teaches her some of his scams, though he tries hard to steer her from his chosen path.

While Matchstick Men tries to go down some quirky paths, ultimately it feels like a very conventional flick. To be sure, it starts on an interesting note; we don’t often see film protagonists with seriously debilitating mental issues. The movie’s first act demonstrates a lot of spark and energy.

However, once Angela comes into play, the story heads down a predictable trail. On the surface, that statement may sound weird to anyone who’s actually seen the movie, because the flick presents a variety of twists and turns. I won’t discuss those, but I thought they were fairly easy to read. Normally I’m not very good at anticipating surprises – I’m not one of those folks who’ll claim they foresaw the ending of The Sixth Sense - but I figured out how Matchstick would end pretty far in advance. Frankly, the only tension I experienced stemmed from fears my hypotheses might be incorrect.

They weren’t, and the movie played out pretty much as I’d figured. That doesn’t make it bad, for many flicks present predictable action. However, since much of this one’s fun comes from surprises, it loses some force when we can figure it out in advance.

Most of the movie concentrates on the relationship between Roy and Angela, and that’s another era where it becomes exceedingly conventional. Plenty of flicks take similar paths; the self-absorbed and/or isolated person meets a kid who teaches them to embrace life more fully. Nothing new or creative comes from the depiction displayed here; honestly, the movie often reminded me a ton of the more interesting Leon: The Professional.

Granted, any movie with a pair of compulsively watchable hams like Cage and Rockwell must have something going for it. Indeed, the pair help bring the fairly ordinary material to life. The whole cast fares well, actually, and they add spark to a pedestrian tale.

Nonetheless, Matchstick Men remains a disappointment. It seemed like it could have been something original and creative, but instead it came across like little more than the usual sentimental and sappy fare. It worked well enough for me to enjoy it, but it didn’t succeed to any greater degree than that. With so much high-level talent at work, it should have been a more substantial achievement.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Matchstick Men appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. All in all, the DVD presented the material well.

Sharpness always appeared immaculate. Even during extreme wide shots, I found the image to remain nicely crisp and well defined. At no point did I discern any signs of softness or fuzziness in this tight picture. Some minor moiré effects cropped up when screen doors and blinds appeared, but those were slight, and I detected no concerns related to jagged edges. A little edge enhancement seemed present at times, but not to a significant degree. Print flaws also seemed absent.

Matchstick featured a fairly stylized palette. It kept things rather quiet much of the time, as most of the movie seemed subdued and without much vivacity to the colors. Despite the inherently bland look of the film, I felt the DVD replicated the tones quite nicely. The colors appeared clear and distinct at all times, as I saw no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. Overall, Matchstick Men provided a strong visual experience.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Matchstick Men served the movie nicely. As one might expect, the majority of the audio tended toward general environmental material. Music demonstrated excellent stereo imaging, and the effects spread out the information well. Those elements worked especially well when they helped put us inside Roy’s mind. For example, a panic attack brought home the intensity of his feelings. Those sequences added solid use of the surrounds. The rear speakers contributed a fine sense of atmospherics throughout the flick, and they were quite active when appropriate.

Audio quality seemed very good. At all times, dialogue came across as concise and crisp. I noticed no problems with edginess or intelligibility, as the lines always sounded smooth. Music was appropriately bright and dynamic, as the score and songs seemed nicely reproduced. Effects were also clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion. Bass response pounded well when necessary, such as during the aforementioned panic attacks; the low-end really kicked in solidly. Overall, the soundscape lacked the ambition to enter “A”-level, but the mix earned a firm “B+”.

For this release of Matchstick Men, the extras launch with an audio commentary from director/producer Ridley Scott, writer Nicholas Griffin, and writer/producer Ted Griffin. The Griffin brothers sit together, while Scott chats on his own, and the track combines their efforts into an edited piece. Overall, the parts mix nicely, as the trio offer a lively and informative discussion.

Scott probably talks a little more than the Griffins, but the time seems fairly equally divided. Not surprisingly, the brothers mostly go over subjects connected to the text. They talk about changes from the original novel, how they came onto the project and the involvement of Robert Zemeckis, and tone and pacing issues. They also toss out some funny anecdotes from the production and keep things nicely light.

The veteran of many commentaries, Scott rarely does poor ones, and Matchstick proves to be one of his better chats. The director relates information such as how he got onto the project, story notes and pacing issues, music, visual design, rehearsal, casting, and problems connected to the relatively small budget and brief shooting schedule. Scott often creates his own backstories for his characters, and he discusses those here as he goes through we he envisions as their prior lives. All told, the three men give us a very entertaining and useful discussion of the movie that works quite well.

Next we find a lengthy documentary called Tricks of the Trade: Making Matchstick Men. It runs 71 minutes and 39 seconds as it presents behind the scenes footage and interviews. We hear from Scott, Ted Griffin, Nicholas Griffin, casting director Debra Zane, producers Sean Bailey, Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, costume designer Michael Kaplan, co-producers Charles JD Schlissel and Giannina Facio, assistant director KC Hodenfield, production designer Tom Foden, editor Dody Dorn, actors Sam Rockwell and Nicolas Cage, author Eric Garcia, and composer Hans Zimmer.

”Trade” follows the making of the flick in fairly chronological order, as it goes through pre-production, production, and post-production. This includes topics like casting, costumes, locations and various forms of scouting, script issues, various stages of the shoot, Scott’s temper, notes related to different scenes and locations, editing, scoring and the film’s tone. The interviews provide good discussion of the elements, and the footage from the set brings these things to life well. The behind the scenes shots dominate the program and add a great sense of reality. Overall, “Trade” provides a fine examination of the creation of the movie.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we get an unusual addition: the flick’s soundtrack CD. This comes on a separate platter and includes Hans Zimmer’s score. It also features some of the picture’s source music such as Bobby Darin’s “The Good Life”. I’m not sure why the set went this way instead of the isolated score route, but it’s a cool way to do it. Movie music fans should be excited to get this CD.

With a lot of great talent at work and some interesting elements, Matchstick Men should have presented a lively production. Unfortunately, while the flick offers some good moments and remains generally entertaining, it fails to create anything particularly original or creative. The DVD gives us excellent picture and audio. Its collection of supplements doesn’t seem enormous, but the quality and depth of the various components seems terrific. Matchstick Men is a very good DVD but only a sporadically compelling film.

The version of Matchstick Men reviewed here may not be the one you find on the shelves of your local retailer. As noted, this one includes the movie's soundtrack on CD. A single-disc edition will likely be more common. It offers the same DVD but comes without the CD. It also sells for about $12 less.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9583 Stars Number of Votes: 24
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