The Matador Review

Pierce Brosnan has one of the most honest faces in cinema yet he does his best work playing rogues and scumbags. In The Tailor Of Panama, he was sensational as a slimy British intelligence agent up to no good in Central America. In the new black comedy The Matador, he's even better as Julian Noble, an international hitman fed up with his jet-setting, murderous lifestyle. Julian is a lonely man. He has no home, no family, no friends. The only things that bring him any pleasure are drink and meaningless sex with women, usually whores.

It's easy to see parallels to a certain secret agent. There was a brief scene in Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan's second Bond film, showing 007 preparing for a long vigil in an anonymous hotel room, alone with a gun and a bottle. It hinted at a melancholy side to Bond that was never developed as the series became increasingly action-packed. Brosnan made public his frustration with the producers' lack of interest in the character, which ironically they're now making a big deal out of rectifying, with a new actor in the role. Possibly for Brosnan, The Matador offered an opportunity to explore Bond's less heroic side and take it to an extreme. I do mean an extreme - it's hard to imagine Bond trying it on with a Catholic schoolgirl.

While relaxing between assignments in Mexico City, Julian strikes up a conversation with mild-mannered American executive Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in a hotel bar. Danny's in town to clinch a corporate deal. So is Julian. Danny is initially repelled by this rude, foul-mouthed Brit, who seems to be sorely lacking in social skills. However Julian is so pathetically sorry the next morning and so eager for company that Danny accepts his apology and agrees to spend the day with him.

Julian takes him to a bullfight and when the conversation turns to what the two men do for a living, Julian tells Danny straight out that he kills people for money. Initially disbelieving, the executive is quickly convinced by Julian's expertise in the art of assassination. Danny finds it strangely exciting to be in the company of such a man. It's a kick to hang out with a real life assassin, at least it is until Julian aks him to lend a hand on his next job.

You may ask, would a real-life assassin be likely to share the secrets of his trade with people he befriends in bars? Probably not. However writer-director Richard Shepard does a good job of showing us an individual who, under the right circumstances, just might. The premise may sound like the set-up for an Adam Sandler comedy but Shepard is working on a much more sophisticated level.

The Matador is a very good movie: deceptively light and funny on the surface and a very compelling character piece underneath. There's truth in the writing. Take the way Danny is impressed with Julian rather than frightened or appalled. That's absolutely right. Of course he's flattered that the kind of man Bruce Willis plays in movies would deign to spend time with him. He hasn't a clue how unenviable Julian's life really is.

Because it feels like it's about real people, this is one of those rare movies where you can't predict what will happen next. The ending is not what I was expecting at all. Even its tone is a surprise. It's a satisfying one however. While the ending involves some plot twists, they're subtle ones that add to the story rather than pull the rug out from under it. The Matador doesn't set out to jerk you around like Lucky Number Slevin. Richard Shepard has done some very skillful work here. He's an unknown though not a first timer - he's made several films over a 15 year career. This is his first to receive a major release and media attention. His next will be worth watching out for.

Shepard obviously has a gift for working with actors. Brosnan is superb and Greg Kinnear is just as good in a less showy role. He's the straight man but he manages to create a character just as complex and interesting as Brosnan's. It's about time Hollywood noticed just how good Kinnear is. Although the movie is about Danny and Julian's relationship, it isn't entirely a two-hander. There are small but important roles for Philip Baker Hall and Dylan Baker. In the second half, a third major character is introduced and that's Danny's wife Bean, played by Hope Davis. It would be a crime to give away what happens so I'll just tell you Davis gives the best performance in the film and her scenes with Brosnan and Kinnear are priceless.



out of 10

Last updated: 08/06/2018 16:29:48

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