The Matador

2006-07-13 12:24


When Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) goes to Mexico City on business he doesn't expect to meet an assassin, let alone make friends with one. A timid salesman from Denver, Danny couldn't be more different from Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) the sleazy, dissolute killer-for-hire that he meets in the hotel bar. But, after a rocky start, the pair strike up a tentative friendship. Danny admires the apparent freedom and non-stop thrills of Julian's life, while Julian secretly longs for the stability of Danny's cosy home life. Then Julian asks Danny to help him perform his next hit, and events soon take a turn for the unexpected.


The great thing about independent (or "indie") films is their potential for creative openness. Away from the business obsessed studio culture, many fabulous and iconoclastic films have been brought into the world. They may not look as polished, and the stars might not be as big, but this is counterbalanced by freshness, honesty and a willingness to take chances.

Of course this is only really true of good indie films. Clumsy, ill conceived films like The Matador would be better left on the shelf. They make you realize why a little business acumen can actually be good for a film like this, that it might reign in a few of the creative excesses. Indie film is great as long as it's producing maverick geniuses like Darren Aronofsky and David Lynch, or quirky human comedies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But to assume that "indie" equates to "quality" is farcical.

The biggest problem with the The Matador is not the concept. "A hitman meets a salesman" is a great premise. The problem comes in the ham-fisted execution. Both the story and the characters lack all credibility. In writer/director Richard Shepard's screenplay, things happen because they are convenient to the story he's trying to tell, not because they are plausible or true to life.

An example: when our heroes first meet in the hotel bar Greg Kinnear's straight-laced salesman says "Margaritas always taste better in Mexico", to which Brosnan's hitman replies, ever so wittily, "Yeah, Margaritas and c*ck." The salesman immediately gets up to leave - no surprise there - but the hitman convinces him to stay! What's more he does it merely by saying "I'm sorry, I'm drunk, please stay with me." On what planet does a timid salesman from Denver actually stay after that kind of incident?

This isn't necessarily a problem - madcap films don't need to be believable, just fun. But The Matador doesn't want to be just madcap - oh no - it also wants to be a serious and sensitive exploration of the human condition. So instead of taking the quirky angle and running with it, Shepard laces the screenplay with nauseating sentimentality.

Danny and his wife Bean (Hope Davis is wasted on the role) have recently lost a son. This kind of serious drama might still have worked in the film, given a deft touch, but Shepard appears to be pulling all his heartfelt dialogue from the Days of our Lives scriptwriting manual.

But it's not just the screenplay that is clumsy. The cinematography is uneven, ranging from some very good set pieces to some extremely poor ones. The muddled editing doesn't help matters, introducing inexplicable pauses in some scenes and then cutting too rapidly through others. Even the films titles are clunky - big, ugly, brightly coloured letters that Shepard probably thinks are quirky and fresh. Pedro Almodovar may be able to use devices like that, but in this film they just look childish.

The film's one saving grace is Brosnan's lusty performance as the sleazy hitman. Brosnan seems to relish tearing down the debonair image that he built up so painstakingly in the James Bond films and The Thomas Crown Affair. Many people will find this positively painful to watch, like seeing a thoroughbred horse reduced to ploughing fields, but you have to give Brosnan credit for what is probably his best role in years. It's just a pity that, because of the quality of the material, he doesn't have more room to properly exploit this character that he so obviously relishes playing.

As for Kinnear, he seems a long way from his Oscar nominated turn in As Good As It Gets. He frowns and dithers his way through the film, never bringing anything new to the part. You have to feel sorry for him though - it can't be all that fun to play the straight guy in such a mediocre project.

The Matador isn't a popcorn movie - the plot will frustrate anyone in search of pure entertainment. At the same it isn't an art film, although it did sneak into several film festivals (heaven knows how). In fact this film has the dubious honour of appealing to no-one in particular. If you're absolutely stuck for something to watch, you could do worse. But beware, you'll never be able to look at Pierce Brosnan the same way again.

- Alistair Fairweather

This unfunny comedy is clumsy, crude and downright sleazy - just like Pierce Brosnan's character. And while Brosnan clearly enjoys destroying his suave '007' image - it's no fun watching him do so.

Frik 2006/02/23 9:13 AM
Piercing actor One of the best performances by Pierce Brosnan the actor as opposed to Brosnan the spy movie star. The movie is not mainstream and seems bound for the sidebar movie house and DVD/video spectrum. Viva la Brog
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