The Matador — Movie Review

The Matador photophoto courtesy Miramax

A mustached Pierce Brosnan walks through a hotel lobby wearing only a speedo, beer can in hand, gut hanging out, cigarette drooping out of the side of his smirk. The other guests stare, almost horrified, and obviously we���re supposed to have the same reaction: that can���t be (the former) James Bond playing washed-up hitman Julian Noble in The Matador. Julian is a complete 180 from James Bond: instead of style, he oozes sleaze; while Bond is a charmer, Julian is a bisexual predator, eyeing Catholic schoolgirls and raiding S&M clubs.

Matador poster
The Matador
(Miramax)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
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Cinephiles may remember a similar anti-Bond performance Brosnan gave in The Tailor of Panama as a disgraced British agent who stews up trouble in Panama just because he���s bored and horny. But Julian is a far more complex and ultimately redeemable character that Brosnan plays with both gusto and finesse. Even though the setup is reminiscent of Gross Pointe Blank, The Matador���s focus on friendship, particularly male bonding, and Brosnan���s surprisingly articulate performance make this film a whole other beast.

On his birthday, when he���s alone and watching TV in a Mexico City hotel room, Julian realizes he has no friends. Scanning through his address book, he finds only brothels and gun shops. After indulging in an orgy, Julian meets businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), who is recovering from losing his job and his son. His current shaky business deal is essential to his survival, but he hides his lack of confidence in that suburban American appearances-are-everything way, which attracts Julian to him. Julian feeds off Danny���s normalcy ��� the first thing he wants to know is if Danny has a wife and kids. He wants a taste of that white-bread living that Danny sweats, and Danny indulges in Julian���s more exciting world of hits and screwing whole Filipino whorehouses.

The movie���s title comes from Julian���s love of bullfights, but is part of an extended metaphor. While Julian praises the skill of the matador who kills the most efficiently (i.e., one stab and it���s dead), the camera often juxtaposes him with the bull, running around in whatever direction the red cape sends him, drunk, lustful, and lecherous. But when he leads Danny through a mock hit at a bullfight, we see the matador (cross-cut with slow motion shots of an actual matador plying his trade): calculating, cool, confident. Julian���s ego is in a constant bullfight, his personality split between the furious, out-of-control animal and the methodical killer. It���s Danny���s friendship that will help Julian find a balance.

The friendship never feels forced thanks to Brosnan���s and Kinnear���s great onscreen camaraderie ��� the best and funniest scenes in the film come when the two are just talking. Instead of relying solely on his Irish good looks as he���s done in many movies past, Brosnan shows some acting muscle, exploring the loneliness Julian has repressed and his internal conflict while displaying deft comic timing. He delivers lines like ���I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy’s left town,��� better than any of the awful one-liners he choked out during his run as Bond. Kinnear���s affable nature is magnetic, even if at times he comes off as a sitcom-ready caricature. But it���s Hope Davis, as Danny���s wife Bean, who threatens to steal the whole movie during an extended drinking scene in which she���s giggly as a schoolgirl in the presence of the assassin. ���Aren���t we cosmopolitan, hosting a hitman in our house!��� she gleefully proclaims.

Which is another interesting aspect of the film ��� the morality of being a hitman. Both Danny and Bean seem unfazed when Julian goes into gory detail about his job ��� actually they���re encourage him as they sip whiskey and eat pecan pie. It���s just a friend bitching about his job. Julian even says he doesn���t do mob hits but ���corporate gigs,��� as if assassinations are business as usual. At the same time, Julian is having a crisis connected to his work: he starts hallucinating on the job, his targets transforming into him as a child. Unfortunately this angle gets sold short when writer/director Richard Shepard forces a clich?� ���last job��� plot into the mix. On top of that, he seems unsure whether the audience gets the message and has Danny and Julian painfully spell out all lessons learned at the end. Shepard doesn���t have enough faith in his characters, which is too bad because his whip-smart dialogue is on par with Joss Whedon.

Despite the formulaic finale, The Matador is a fun romp with far more depth to its story and characters than the typical big-studio comedy. At the least it allows Brosnan to show he���s got some real talent after shedding 007���s tuxedo.

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STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall, Adam Scott, and Dylan Baker
GENRE(S): Comedy, Drama, Suspense/Thriller
WRITTEN BY: Richard Shepard
DIRECTED BY: Richard Shepard
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: December 23, 2005
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: USA