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Beating the conventions of a genre

Mark Bemenderfer | Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Oh, the irony of movies. Only in the entertainment industry will we ever find loveable criminals. Over the past decade, various criminal roles have been brought to the silver screen. John Cusack was great as a hitman in Grosse Pointe Blank. Steve Martin and Michael Caine were terrific con artists who the audience loved in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The list goes on and on. Somehow, Hollywood always makes us root for the bad guy, something that can be hard to do. It is hard because real life pervades into the movie. The con viewers were just laughing at hits home suddenly as they recall a time someone when took advantage of them. If you’ve ever met a con artist, I sympathize. If you’ve ever met a hitman, I’ll send flowers.However, there is a trick that Hollywood uses to make the viewer sympathize with the criminal, and that is to make him a reluctant one. The latest foray into this clich is Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men. Nicolas Cage, a man known for playing reluctant criminals, plays yet another in this con movie. The cons in this movie seem to be recycled from other movies. The whole father-daughter relationship shown in this movie has been done before. On the surface, this entire movie seems to be just an exercise on how to base a film on a criminal’s life – which is why I find it really surprising just how much I enjoyed the movie.Cage turns in a phenomenal role as the quirky conman Roy. His nervous twitches really endear him to the viewer. His quirks also allowed another staple of the genre to enter the fold, which would be Roy’s psychiatrist, played by Bruce Altman in a very standard performance.However, what really makes this movie special is its use of the typical Hollywood conventions. It takes everything that is expected from the viewer and then plays these expectations for a huge twist at the end. The twist, although quite obvious after the fact, is appropriate and helps the viewer to sympathize with Cage’s character. The ending may leave some people unsettled, but nevertheless it ties everything together in a logical manner.Video and sound were both up to the industry standards. They did not stand out in any particular way for either being really good or bad, so in a way they accomplished their goal. This movie was not one based upon fancy special effects or moody backgrounds; it was a character-based movie, one that accomplishes its goal well.The special features follow the theme of the movie by ripping off the viewer. It comes with a feature called “Tricks of the Trade,” which is not about how to con people but rather about how the film was made. There is also a commentary track featuring the director and two writers. Sadly, there was no track featuring Cage, the other stars, or all the other things that people have come to expect from a DVD – no deleted scenes, bloopers, interviews, etc. I suppose it makes sense, as the making of the documentary was 71 minutes long and the movie was almost two hours long; the space on the disc was probably running short.Matchstick Men plays with the conventions of the genre and subsequently turns out to be a decent film in the end. All of the actors do a great job of building sympathy for their characters. If you have spare time during break, go outside and get a tan. If it’s raining, however, consider checking this movie out.