Nicolas Cage Underrated Comedy Thriller Deserves More Recognition, One Of His Best Movies

By Robert Scucci | Updated

nicolas cage matchstick men

It’s an absolute shame that Nicolas Cage’s Matchstick Men is nowhere to be found on streaming, and that I have to shell out my hard-earned cash to watch it on-demand. But I’m not too mad because of all of the Cage titles I’ve worked my way through, Matchstick Men is one of his best movies, and it’s not even close. Though this movie wasn’t one of Cage’s bigger commercial hits, it’s clear that he was truly in his element while working under Ridley Scott’s direction. 

The Story

Based on the Eric Garcia novel of the same name, Matchstick Men is a darkly hilarious exploration of mental illness through the life and times of Nicolas Cage’s Roy Waller. Roy is an affluent con artist afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome who runs a number of low-stakes scams on unassuming victims. The primary cons that Roy and his partner, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell), engage in involve selling water filtration systems to senior citizens and robbing them of their retirement funds. 

Though Roy is able to keep his more severe symptoms at bay, everything changes when his medication gets washed down the kitchen sink. Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of a man succumbing to his various nervous tics and outbursts in Matchstick Men is illustrated through his obsessive cleaning frenzies that take up entire days. When Frank discovers the poor shape that Roy is in, he advises him to go seek psychiatric help, and we’re introduced to Dr. Harris Klein (Bruce Altman). 


Through Roy’s therapy sessions, he learns that he has an estranged daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman), who he conceived with his now-ex-wife, Heather (Melora Walters), before they separated. Roy reveals to Angela that he is a professional conman. Reluctantly agreeing to teach her a few of the tricks that he has up his sleeve, Roy’s relationship with Angela blossoms in Matchstick Men, and Nicolas Cage expertly portrays a mentally ill father who’s simply trying to reconnect with his long-lost daughter. 

One Last Con

nicolas cage matchstick men

Frank encourages Roy to do one last long con in which they steal a substantial amount of money from a businessman named Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill). At this point in Matchstick Men, Roy is overjoyed by the fact that Angela wants to be in his life, but horrified to find out that a scheduling conflict requires him to bring her along for the pigeon drop he needs to orchestrate at the airport. When Roy Finds out that Dr. Klein was providing him with placebos instead of real medication, Nicolas Cage goes completely off the rails after the heist backfires.

Critics Loved It, But Few Went To See It

nicolas cage matchstick men

Grossing $65.5 million against its reported production budget of $62 million, Matchstick Men was not a commercial success. Critics, however, praised the movie for its pacing, humor, and Nicolas Cage’s ability to portray such a complex character who’s at the end of his psychological rope. For focusing more on character development than the actual cons depicted in the film, Matchstick Men garnered an 83 percent critical score against an audience score of 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes

What’s more, Roger Ebert gave Matchstick Men a perfect four out of four-star rating, and went so far as to recommend the film for a number of Oscar nominations. 

Check It Out Now

Matchstick Men is one of those rare films where you not only root for the bad guy, but also learn that there is a definitive gray area between bad and good. Through Nicolas Cage’s performance, it’s revealed that even the most seasoned of criminals have a heart, and try to change for the better if there is motivation to do so. Though you can’t currently find this hilarious crime drama streaming anywhere, you can purchase it on-demand through Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and YouTube