Posted by: daveed | September 13, 2008

Pros and cons: Matchstick Men

My good friend and filmmaker Kartik Singh reviews Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men, probably another great film you’ve not seen. I’m glad he enjoyed as much as I did. Moreover, I was surprised how good it was—it’s one of those very rewarding slow-burn kind of movies, with a fantastic payoff towards the end.

But he brings up a big spoiler. So if you’ve not seen it, don’t ruin it for yourself and find out what the big reveal is. Trust me…

Kartik also lists his favorite Ridley Scott films. Being an admirer myself, here’s mine, which happens to be all the ones of his I’ve seen, hence the omission of American Gangster, among others.

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Alien
  3. Black Hawk Down
  4. Gladiator
  5. The Duellists
  6. Matchstick Men
  7. Kingdom of Heaven (director’s cut)
  8. Thelma and Louise
  9. Black Rain
  10. Legend
  11. G.I. Jane

Ridley Scott is a master film designer, with a very painterly style. This is evident from his very first feature, The Duellists, which I suspect was greatly inspired by another highly visual period piece—Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

It’s probably safe to assume that writing isn’t one of Scott’s strong suits, given that he’s never penned a feature screenplay, certainly not one that’s been produced. But he creates such beautiful images that even his weaker films, such as Kingdom of Heaven, are a pleasure to watch.

Yet, Matchstick Men is in many respects atypical of the style he has developed. It seems to lack that signature Ridley Scott look and feel. Perhaps it’s there, but very subtly and I’m missing it—a few scenes come to mind that feature intriguing interplays of shadows and light. But they don’t telegraph that Scott is behind the camera.

But whatever. Check it out. It’s quite good.


  1. I know it lacks the visual power of Blade Runner, but there are points in Matchstick Men where you feel that a master is at work.

    Two favorite shots:

    When Roy (Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) are at the couple’s place (con #1), Cage freaks out, presumably because he has no more medication. The scene starts normally enough. Cage is smooth and the con seems to be going well. Then slowly, Cage starts losing it. Then, the dog starts scratching at the screen door to get out. When the screen door slides open, we move into a weird, slow/fast motion hallucination from Cage’s POV, where he looks at Sam Rockwell, and all around Rockwell’s image, the outdoor vegetation turns a bright golden yellow color.

    I also love the little shot somewhere in the middle where Cage is driving and in the station wagon in front of him, there are these kids making scary faces at him. Since the whole movie makes you wonder about Cage’s mental state, shots like this are powerful, and I must say hilarious, too.

    When you read the screenplay, which I picked up from Drew’s Script o Rama, you get another sense of how much Ridley Scott brings to the film. For example, in one scene, where the script basically says, Roy and Frank meet at the airport, watch the scene in the movie. Frank is smoking a cigarette on the upper level, spying Roy as he walks down below. At just the right moment, he tosses his empty styrofoam cup so it lands just where Roy is standing. When they meet, Roy warns Frank about not being discrete. These flourishes certainly don’t move the plot forward, but they bring a lot of richness and depth to the scenes.

    It’s interesting to talk about Ridley Scott and his talent. It reminds me of the talk on Thelma and Louise, which I think is a near perfect film*. Anyway, I heard that writer Callie Khouri was thinking about directing the film herself. We’ll never know what that film would have looked like. But I don’t know if it would have been as satisfying. Would first time director Khouri have known how to tease out the wonderful performances? More importantly, would she have been able to bring out the mythic quality of this story the way Ridley Scott does in filming Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.

    *(My only regret is that Keitel is not at all believable as a Texas Ranger. What were they thinking?!!)

  2. This is interesting: The DP on Matchstick Men also worked on Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator

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