American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men" tells three stories, each one intriguing enough to supply a movie. It is: (1) the story of a crisis in the life of a man crippled by neurotic obsessions; (2) the story of two con men who happen onto a big score, and (3) the story of a man who meets the teenage daughter he never knew he had, and finds himself trying to care for her. The hero of all three stories is Roy (Nicolas Cage), who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, panic attacks, you name it. His con-man partner is Frank (Sam Rockwell). His daughter is Angela (Alison Lohman), and Roy is so fearful that when he decides to contact her, he persuades his shrink to make the phone call.
I wish that you had seen the movie so we could discuss what a sublime job it does of doing full justice to all three of these stories, which add up to more, or perhaps less, than the sum of their parts. The screenplay for "Matchstick Men" is an achievement of Oscar calibre -- so absorbing that whenever it cuts away from "the plot," there is another, better plot to cut to. Brothers Ted and Nicholas Griffin adapted it from the novel by Eric Garcia. Cage bought the movie rights before it was published, and no wonder, because the character of Roy is one of the great roles of recent years; he's a nut case, a clever crook and a father who learns to love, all in one. Cage effortlessly plays these three sides to his character, which by their nature would seem to be in conflict.
As the movie opens, Roy and Frank are playing a sophisticated form of the Pigeon Drop, in which victims are convinced they have a tax refund coming, and then visited by Frank and Roy themselves, posing as federal agents who want cooperation in catching the tax frauds. Elegant. Frank keeps wondering when Roy will be ready to pull a really big job, but it's all Roy can do to get out of bed in the morning.
An open door can cause a panic attack. He goes into spasms of compulsive behavior, and only the pills prescribed by Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) seem to hold him together at all. When he spills his pills down the drain and Klein's office is closed, Cage has a scene in a pharmacy that is the equal of his opening moments in "Leaving Las Vegas" as an illustration of man desperately trying to get what he needs before he implodes.