The Matador

The Matador


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The Matador is an uncommon entertainment, skilfully written, about two mismatched characters and their strangely touching friendship. One of the many pleasures of the film is the manner in which it mixes pulpy ideas - the One Last Hit, the Buddy Movie - into something that feels fresh. Writer/director Richard Shepard has a knack for surprise and pulling visual, verbal and storytelling ideas from thin air.

Pierce Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a burned-out hitman, pulling a few last jobs for his omnipotent and unnamed employers. The first scene sets the tone and involves raiding a hooker's handbag for nail polish, further reinforced later in strutting through a hotel in nothing but a pair of cowboy boots - "Pierce's idea" assured Shepard - and black Speedos. His sense of humour is deliciously rustic and rude, with the choice cuts being a hilarious hatful of Asian whore jokes.

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Noble is bumptious to a fault, unkempt, immature - he thinks nothing of dishing out schoolyard insults before a very public execution. He's also oversexed and ambidextrous. When told that "margaritas taste better in Mexico", he immediately quips "Yes, margaritas and cock." 007 would doubtless disapprove.

He meets failing businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in a superbly sterile hotel bar in Mexico. Slightly the worse for wear, Julian strikes up a conversation. They talk about families and Danny opens up about his son's recent death. Julian immediately starts telling a filthy joke and the insulted Danny storms off..

It's the flowering moment in the movie, probably the first time that Julian has ever properly shared time, or even friendship, with anyone and regrets flubbing it. They meet again the day after. Danny demands an apology and gets a sincere one, as well as an invitation to a bullfight. The matadors embody flamboyance, agility, skill and brutality - and Julian appreciates their ethics.

This sets up the basis of the relationship and Julian reveals his occupation - "a facilitator of fatalities." Intrigued, Danny asks that he prove it by discussing how he would murder a rich man with bodyguards, which leads into the showpiece scene, a visual dissertation of how to get away with murder. It's both breakneck fast and much funnier than you would think.

This is Brosnan's best performance and he relishes the combination of comedy and acting. His career thus far reminds us of an inverse Bill Murray, an icon turned sad clown. His self-loathing hitman, discovering sentimentality, is magnetic and yet the audience never quite feels safe in his company. Kinnear plays the role he's forever destined to play, the straight man, keeping one foot in reality.

Later, Julian turns up at Danny's home, and meets his wife (Hope Davis, in a great comic performance), even charming and dancing with her to The Small Hours O' Morning. This has the delightful feel of situation comedy, as Danny fitfully explains to his wife that "for an assassin, he's very nice." It's a knife-edge scene, neither over, nor underplayed.

DOP David Tattersall (Die Another Day, the Star Wars prequels) creates a constantly engaging visual design, keeping the camera as an integral part of the movie's energetic flow, from every and any angle. A particular sequence, describing Julian's mental breakdown, works beautifully, from the fish-eye lens keeping a freaked-out Brosnan in the foreground, with the background also kept in solid focus, to a floor-height shot of him in a pile of donkey shit.

It is hard not to be entertained, even impressed, by The Matador. It neatly sidelines genre dictation, in much the same way that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang avoided and embraced the cliches of hard-boiled detective stories and film noir. It devotes time and effort to its characterisation and rewards us with a pay off of surprising pathos.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2006
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The last fling of a burned out hitman and his uncommon friendship with a failing businessman.
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Chris ***1/2

Director: Richard Shepard

Writer: Richard Shepard

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Adam Scott, Portia Dawson, Philip Baker Hall, Dylan Baker, Claudia Lobo, Arturo Echeverria, William Raymond, Guillermo Capetillo, Federico Pizarro

Year: 2005

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Germany/Ireland


Sundance 2005

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang