Back in high school and college, me and a friend would always be pulling elaborate pranks and schemes, getting into free concerts, bars, stadium box seats and whatever else was ripe for our 17-year-old hands to grab. The biggest reward wasn’t getting the free ticket or item, but the thrill of knowing our scheme had succeeded. We quenched our thirst for danger with our silver-tongues and utter disregard for the rule of law.
Con movies have held a special place in my heart ever since my teens. And my perception of movie con men had always been along the lines of Robert Redford in The Sting or Leo in Catch Me If You Can, smooth-talking criminals who’d rob you blind but you’d immediately forgive them just because they were so damn charming. Matchstick Men presented a different type of con man through Roy (effortlessly played by Nicolas Cage) an anxious neurotic who could swindle even the most aware of millionaires without a sprinkle of self doubt but lack the confidence to ask a girl for her phone number.
We see pretty much all of Matchstick Men through Roy’s eyes as he has a panic attack, sees the shrink Dr. Klein, connects with his long-lost daughter Angela, works with his accomplice Frank to swindle a pompous businessman. We trust him as the master-of-all-cons, that despite his heavy mental and physical ailments, he’s still at the top of his game.
But as we find out after the thrilling ending (one I found so unexpected and rewarding I’d put on the ranks of The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects), we’ve been conned all along. Dr. Klein isn’t a doctor, Angela isn’t actually his daughter, and Frank has been working this whole time to swindle Roy.
It’s an invigorating, jubilant adventure set to the smooth tunes of Frank Sinatra and the glistening sunbeams of Los Angeles. Hans Zimmer peppers the score with life, and director Ridley Scott evokes honest emotion through his thoughtful camerawork. By the film’s end, we as an audience have been duped by the events that have transpired, but we’ve been far from conned.