It's hard not to read Matchstick Men as a script, given its background. Long before Miami author Eric Garcia's novel was published, filmmaker Ridley Scott signed on to direct the film adaptation. It's set to be one of next summer's major blockbusters, with Nicolas Cage as the protagonist, Roy, an aging con artist (or "matchstick man") who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Considering Hollywood's longtime fascination with the grifter lifestyle, plus the current vogue for films that deal with mental illness, the film seems bound to be a hit.
Roy's been a grifter for ages. He's seen it all. "I know all the angles," he tells a potential business partner, "and I see them coming before other guys even thought of 'em." Maybe there's a little too much confidence in this con man, though, because he doesn't see the biggest con of his life even as it's falling into place right under his nose.
Roy's best friend and partner, Frankie (to be played by Sam Rockwell in the film), wants them to get in on a scheme involving a mysterious Turk named Saif, forgeries of forgeries of Pollocks and Miros and several thousand dollars of cold hard cash. Roy, the seasoned vet, doesn't trust anybody he hasn't known for eons. He is, literally, insanely uptight even when he's on his medication. Besides, he's a little distracted, because he just found out he has a 14-year-old daughter from a whirlwind marriage that ended years ago. But his new shrink, Dr. Klein, has him on some great pills, so at least the specks of dirt on the rug don't make him want to vomit anymore. And he trusts Frankie. So he goes along with the art scheme, meanwhile getting to know his long-lost daughter, Angela, who's eager to learn the family business herself.
Alert readers will guess what's up by page 50, but the fun is in watching Roy figure it out, seeing him dodge constant curveballs and maintain his sanity in the face of his illness. He's a compelling character, and it's only slightly distracting to be unable to visualize him as anyone but Nicolas Cage. The immediacy of Roy's present-tense narration drags you right into his head and keeps you there as the tale unfolds, making it nearly impossible not to be touched by his love of the grift, his unforeseen parental devotion to Angela and his inevitable crash.
Then the sad music swells, the scene fades to black and the credits start to roll. Becky Ohlsen writes from Portland, Oregon.