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Movie Review

Matchstick Men

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language.

Reviewed by: D.J. Williams

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Mature Teens
Crime Comedy Drama
1 hr. 56 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 12, 2003
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Copyright, Warner Brothers
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Brothers



obsessive-compulsives / Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

seeking help from psychoanalysts/psychiatrists

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

cheating people through scams / con artists

living a life of crime


the real consequences for sin

real father daughter relationships

Featuring: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, Bruce Altman
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: Jack Rapke, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey, Ted Griffin, Sean Bailey
Distributor: Warner Bros.

The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements (Roy and Angela’s relationship eventually faces troubling circumstances), violence (one non-graphic, yet intense scene), some sexual content (a meeting between Frank, Roy, and a prospective con target takes place is an exotic club, with scantily clad dancers performing, plus some dialogue), and language (pretty run-of-the-mill PG-13 fare, with one f-word included).

Although the objectionable content is average for a PG-13 film, the themes, the touching father-daughter relationship, and the emphasis on family that the film portrays are far better than today’s average film—thus my “Better than Average” morality rating. In the end, the film does not uphold the strip-club meetings, the characters’ vices, and conning others out of their cash. The film portrays the repercussions of that life and emphasizes that what’s really important is family and investing your life not in financial pursuits, but in the ones you love. In a film I would recommend expressly for older teens and adults, this is a terrific film with a lot to say.

The film includes a beautiful portrayal of a father-daughter relationship, which is really the heart of the story and dictates much of the other action. For that reason alone, this would be a good film to check out; the overall messages of the story are very positive. We wouldn’t recommend the film to those under 13, but honestly they wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. This is a great film for teens and adults, however, and viewers should watch with discretion.

After nine months of movies in 2003, there’s yet to be a truly brilliant film. We’ve had tremendous emotion (Seabiscuit), an animated masterpiece (Finding Nemo), a terrific war drama (Tears of the Sun), and an exciting summer adventure movie (Pirates of the Caribbean), but all of them pale in comparison to some of the truly magnificent films released in the first nine months of 2002. All that has now changed with the release of Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men”, the engrossing tale of a neurotic con man who meets the daughter he didn’t know he had, and hands down the best film so far this year.

“Matchstick Men” tells the story of Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage), an obsessive-compulsive con-man with as many tricks as twitches. He and partner Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) have just pulled another job with ease, adding to their well-lined pockets. Things really get moving when Roy runs out of his medication one afternoon, and then discovers that his shrink has left town. Frank sets him up with a new psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) who, unlike the other, forces Roy to actually talk to him to get the pills.

Through their sessions, the topic comes up of Roy’s ex-wife, who left him when she was pregnant with their first child fourteen years prior. After Dr. Klein contacts her, he tells Roy that he does indeed have a daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), who wants to meet him. They do meet, and the film then follows their growing relationship as Roy and Frank prepare to pull the big one.

Scott flawlessly directs a tremendous film that is outside of his usual mode. The acclaimed director of films such as Alien, G.I. Jane, and Black Hawk Down is famous for engrossing movies about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. “Matchstick Men” is much smaller in scope and more deeply personal in its character development than Scott’s other work, but is just as well crafted.

The brilliant cinematography plunges us headlong into Roy’s world, and the character development (equally credited to Nicholas and Ted Griffin’s ingenious screenplay) is such that we deeply care about the characters, especially Roy and Angela. The story of their unfolding and growing relationship is so engrossing that as they are caught up in the rapidly unfolding plot, our emotions are completely invested in every twist and turn. This is a film equally brilliant and beautiful, engaging our minds while simultaneously pulling at our hearts.

A large part of that is owed to the performances. Nicolas Cage totally loses himself in the role of Roy. He’s incredibly believable (and entertaining) as both a neurotic and a loving father, personalizing the character and drawing the audience in. One part comedic, one part dramatic, all extraordinary, Cage deserves an Oscar nomination for delivering the best performance so far this year. He’s perfectly complimented by Lohman as the self-determined daughter reaching out to her dad.

The 24-year-old actress is 100% convincing as a 14-year-old, and gives a depth to the character that is usually missing in teenage characters. Rounding out the solid cast are Rockwell as the cool, dry, partner, great character actor Bruce McGill (The Legend of Bagger Vance, TV’s “MacGyver”) as the target of Roy and Frank’s big con, and Altman as Roy’s new shrink. The actors take an Oscar-worthy script and fill it out with a cast of characters that sucks the audience headfirst into the film.

In the end, at the core of the dry, witty humor and the twists and turns of the script, “Matchstick Men” is simply the story of a father and a daughter, and how each impacts the other. One of the most beautiful portrayals of a parental relationship ever beautifully concealed inside a brilliant con-movie, “Matchstick Men” truly has something for everyone in the audience who will venture out to see it.

Ridley Scott has stepped out on a limb and made a film that crosses genres, is introspective, and among his greatest work. As the kickoff to the fall movie season, “Matchstick Men” sets a high standard for all the highly anticipated films to come. If they can match Scott’s masterpiece, the last three months of the 2003 cinematic year will leave the first nine in the dust.

Violence: Moderate | Profanity: Heavy | Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—This is the quintessential con-man movie. It reminded me of the movie “Spanish Prisoner” with Steve Martin. While this is for mature Christians due to some language (including the Lord’s name in vain), violence (most of which is part of the con), and a scene that takes place in a strip bar (although the actresses have bikini tops and bottoms), overall the movie has a better than average moral message, in my opinion. The movie develops slowly, and the main character is an obsessive compulsive, with some interesting quirks. The ending is great! I must admit, I was fooled big time. Overall, I felt that this was a good rental.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Michael A., age 35
Positive—Funny movie that keeps your attention all the time. Nicholas Cage is very convincing and funny in this film with his “ticks”. But what had surprised me more was the actress Alyson Lohman. I saw her before in White Oleander and I was in doubt which movie was shot first because in Matchstick she plays a character in the early teens. But then I checked her age: 23 years old! What a great performance!

Regarding the message, although not christian, is very good as it shows a con-man that is “punished” because of his scums (I can’t say more of then that) and his reconciliation with a honest life. Be aware with your small kids because of some language and some strip club scene (but there’s no nudity).
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Gustavo Bastos, age 45
Positive—I would not rate this film offensive at all; it isn’t truly the story about a father-daughter relationship at all, because Angela isn’t Roy’s daughter. Roy visits Heather’s house and she tells him that her pregnancy was a miscarriage. When Angela talks with Roy in the carpet shop, she addresses him as “Roy,” not “Dad,” because he isn’t her father. Frank fabricated the entire thing: he set Roy up with a shrink who was really working for him, making up the entire story about Roy having a daughter named Angela who wanted to meet with him.

This is why Angela always gets out of the car away from the house: she isn’t really Heather and Roy’s child. So I wouldn’t leave the movie feeling sad for Angela at all—she helped con Roy out of all of his money by pretending to be his daughter. There is no familial relationship between the two at all. I think that was misunderstood in these reviews.
My Ratings: [Good/3]
—Emily Michalec, age 19
Negative—…The ending is very clever, but I also found it dark, evil, and inappropriate entertainment for Christians. Roy may appear to be protective as a father to Angela, but, in the end, he leaves her vulnerable to his sleazeball partner, Frank. When she runs into him later, Roy makes no attempt to reconcile with her—she leaves smiling and waving, but all I could think was “what a sad life for such a young girl.” The movie is well acted and well produced, but the themes that come out in the last 25 minutes of the movie do not show real consequences for sin.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Brenda, age 36
Comments from young people
Positive—I really enjoyed this movie. There were a few objectionable things, the Lord’s name is used in vain, but at one point, the main character tells his friend “DON’T SAY THAT” which was refreshing to hear. There was a small amount of violence (guns are shown, a man is killed) which I did NOT like. Also,the men in the movie are con-artists (A.K.A. thieves), but this is not shown in a positive light). There is a great twist ending as well. My mom complained that the movie was a little slow, but my boyfriend and I were on the edge of our seats the whole time. Kids would probably be bored, but adults and older teens will really enjoy it
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—Kat, age 18
Positive—What an amazing film!!! I don’t think I have ever seen a movie better written or directed. The lead actors are all fabulous in this film. Parents be warned there is a strip club scene, and you do see women in thong bikini’s and one inparticular doing a seductive dance. Other than that the movie was AWESOME!!! It is worth your time and money. Even if you’re not fans of any of the actors in this film, go see it and I promise you will. For the last twenty to twenty five minutes of the film I couldn’t keep my jaw off the floor. I’m still thinking about it! You will absolutely be shocked at the end. This is definitely a must see!!!…
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Sara, age 17
Positive—This was a good movie I would recommend this to any one 9 and up.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Warren, age 12
Movie Critics
…The screenplay for “Matchstick Men” is an achievement of Oscar calibre…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…adult comedy with themes and life lessons that will mostly be understood and appreciated by older audiences. …it’s not a movie for young teenagers…
—Holly McClure, Crosswalk
…A cool con movie with a great final kick.
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespi, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…The writing’s top notch. The acting’s enjoyable. …Matchstick Men might be a good yarn, well told, but it knocks Jesus’ name around, it giggles over teen sex, leers at exotic dancers, glories in billows of cigarette smoke, and makes matchstick men look really, really cool-until the very last second. That may be the longest con of them all…
—Steven Isaac, Plugged In

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