Say what you will about Nic Cage, but never doubt his willingness to play really unflattering characters. In Matchstick Men, he plays Roy Waller, a low-stakes confidence man who hasn’t had a girlfriend in 14 years, and when his last one was pregnant, he beat her up. On top of that, he has severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, kept at bay by a plethora of pills and a cleaning habit that would make his house sterile enough for surgical procedures, that is, if he wasn’t also a chain smoker. When he discovers that he has a 14-year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), he develops a passive-aggressive parenting style and eventually teaches her how to screw people out of their money.
Yeah, this guy is pathetic, and not pathetic in the kind of way that he’s continually fucking over other people in order to boost his own confidence, but in the kind of way that if you saw him walking down the street, you’d think to yourself “That guy is pathetic”. Cage invests him with facial spasms and verbal tics. Whenever he gets stressed out, he starts repeatedly groaning, like he’s uncomfortably jizzing his pants. So how does this bode for my theory that Nic Cage is the most awesome actor ever? Pretty well, actually.
How many other “Big Fucking Movie Stars” are willing to completely debase themselves on film? This ain’t even Nic Cage’s least appealing character (see Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, etc.). Sure, Ryan Gosling’s played a guy with a dirty moustache that falls in love with a blow-up doll, but the only time movie stars do movies like this is when they think they can win Oscars. Cage does them time and time again. He can switch so easily from big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer movies, in which he’s awesome and badass, to small performance-driven movies, where he’s pathetic and weird.
So watch this, Ridley Scott’s low-stakes con man movie, and imagine if Robert Downey Jr. Played Roy Waller: in all those scenes where Roy’s partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), engages in verbal sparring matches with Roy, would he allow his character to be humiliated like that, or would his comebacks seem wittier, or at least more sardonic? If Russell Crowe played this role, in all those scenes where Roy loses his temper with Angela, would they seem like equals the way they do in the film, or would Waller look like an dangerously enraged Australian? All I’m saying is, it takes balls for a bankable movie star to repeatedly take roles that have no balls, and yet continue to take roles that do have balls in the meantime. Nic Cage is a strange man, and that’s why he’s great.
Rating: Four uncomfortably young-looking Alison Lohman’s out of four.