" 'There's a sucker born every minute' is a phrase many people associate with P. T. Barnum." He made his living fooling ordinary people into believing virtually anything they saw. Even today there are almost daily news reports about people losing their life savings to scam artists, either by phone, email or internet, because the targets allowed themselves to be so easily victimized – despite many years of dire cautions. This time of year – tax season – people are especially vulnerable. Before television and movies, there were books that chronicled in fact and fiction the sad tales of people becoming dupes of conmen and winding up destitute - or worse. Movies became the visual warning signs about how you could be easily fooled by smooth-talking men and women, promising instant wealth and playing upon others' greed until it was too late.
Here are just a few film classics that showed the tireless ways and means con-men and -women found their victims:
Ocean's Eleven (1960) (2001)
The Producers (1967)
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
The Sting (1973)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Now You See Me (2013)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Mr. Lucky (1943)
The Grifters (1990)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Hustler (1961)
Pacific Heights (1990) and
In September, 2003, a new movie was added to this list. Matchstick Men starred Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman and Bruce McGill. Produced and directed by the great Ridley Scott, it was based on Eric Garcia's 2002 novel. It's the story of Roy Waller (Cage), a consummate conman who, with his partner, Frank Mercer (Rockwell), share a love for cons, especially their current one, the water-filtration system lottery. They visit peoples' home and convince them they've won an expensive system just by handing over some hard-earned money. Roy has Tourette's Syndrome and is prone to panic attacks. He has money stashed around his house and can't go to sleep at night without a rigorous, repetitious routine of checking the doors and windows. Frank suggests Roy go to a psychiatrist he knows, Dr. Harris Klein (Altman), for help and some medication. Roy, finding Dr. Klein kind and helpful, opens up a bit to him about his "business" and Klein contacts Roy's ex-wife, Heather, discovering that Roy has a 14-year old daughter, Angela (Lohman), he knew nothing about. Roy meets with Angela and finds her unlimited exuberance and vitality are what's been missing in his overly well-ordered existence.
Frank has been working on a long-term con against an egotistical businessman named Chuck Frechette (McGill). Roy's renewed vigor and enthusiasm now make him want to actually do the con to its conclusion, rewarding the two conmen a lot of money.
Angela surprises Roy by staying at his place, going through his possessions and learning that he is a consummate conman. She says she fights with her mother and wants Roy to take of her. He teaches her a small con and tries it out with her at a local laundromat. Later, as Roy and Angela are bowling, Frank tells him that the mark's travel plans have suddenly changed and Frechette is leaving on vacation earlier than expected. The two decide to con him at the airport, using Angela as a distraction. The con is successful but Frechette realizes what's happened and chases Roy and Angela into a garage; they escape. She admits to having some criminal activity in her past and he tells her to leave him alone.
It's not long before Roy misses Angela and his old medical issues return. He finds the medication from Dr. Klein is fake and he needs her. He tells Frank he's done with confidence games. As they return to his place after dinner, Frechette is waiting for them, demanding his money and showing Frank bloody on the floor. Angela somehow shoots Chuck and Roy sends her away with Frank. Chuck recovers enough to knock Roy out cold.
Roy wakes up in a hospital room with the police asking him serious questions while Dr. Klein stands by. Roy gives the doctor his bank account information and asks that the money go to Angela. He passes out, waking up later and finding everything is a fraud, including the "hospital room" which is just a shipping container. "Dr. Klein's" office is empty and his entire bank account has been cleaned out. It was the ultimate con planned and executed by Frank against his mentor.
Roy gathers his courage, goes to Heather's place and finds out that she never had a child; she miscarried.
A year later Roy's working in a carpet store as "Angela" and her boyfriend wander in. Roy chats with her and tells he's an honest man, with his pregnant wife, Kathy and a whole new life.
This is a great movie, with many twists, turns and surprising avenues we travel that turn out to be dead ends. I'm a devoted fan of Sam Rockwell and he doesn't disappoint me in this film. Cage's performance is good and is reminiscent of some of his earlier, more realistic roles. The other players make it an ensemble cast and I recommend it to everyone.
BTW: this column marks my 8th year writing on Matchflick. Thank you to everyone who faithfully read my columns and a special shout-out to Tim and Brandon for all their help over the years. This is a true labor of love and I intend to keep writing every year.
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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