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'Bring your daughter to work' gets a twist

By David SterrittFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / September 12, 2003



Ridley Scott is a reigning king of the Hollywood epic, with large-scale pictures like "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner" to his credit - or discredit, if you think too much large-scaleness is one of Hollywood's problems these days.

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He's made a few character-driven films in his time, though, and "Matchstick Men" is a likable addition to that small corner of his career. It's also a well-made entry in the fashionable caper-movie genre, which has gathered steam lately with "Ocean's Eleven" and others.

Nicolas Cage plays Roy, a small-time con artist with a large repertoire of tics, twitches, fears, and phobias. On top of this, he's dogged by memories of a marriage that went horribly wrong. Advised to come to terms with his past, he gets in touch with Angela, his teenage daughter (Alison Lohman), whose existence he discovered only recently. She seems like a great girl, full of energy and imagination, and Roy immediately falls under her spell.

But things are more complicated than they appear. Roy and his accomplice (Sam Rockwell) are knee-deep in an ambitious new swindle. It won't be easy for Roy to juggle this and his new paternal duties - even though Angela is eager to be initiated into the world of scams and skulduggery, and shows remarkable talent for it when Roy indulges her against his better judgment.

And hey, this is a movie about con artists, so there's every chance that deceit and double-dealing are even more pervasive than you'd think.

Some moviegoers like to second-guess this kind of picture while they watch, trying to stay a step or two ahead of the story and figure out the ending in advance. I prefer to spill my popcorn when surprises spring out along the way. Whatever your own method, you'll find much to enjoy here, and I doubt many people will be able to anticipate all the twists and turns.

The cast is also solid, especially Mr. Cage, whose fortunes may be on the rise again. After his awful scenery-chewing in recent films like "Windtalkers" and "Gone in 60 Seconds," this movie - like "Adaptation" last year - finds him at his actorly best, playing an offbeat character with sympathy and understatement.

It's nice to have him back.

Rated PG-13; contains violence and sexuality.

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