It's probably best that Pierce Brosnan's no longer playing the role of James Bond. After his bawdy, biting turn in The Matador, I don't know that I'd ever be able to watch a 007 film quite the same way. Brosnan is a filthy, freewheeling delight as Julian Noble, the "facilitator of fatalities," who serves as the unexpected soul of writer/director Richard Shepard's intriguing but flat comedy/drama The Matador.
Burnt out, suffering from a midlife crisis and anxiety attacks, Julian is a wonderful, multidimensional character unfairly given short shrift by Shepard's rote screenplay. Greg Kinnear also stars as Danny Wright, a gregarious Colorado businessman who meets Julian by chance in the lobby of a Mexico City hotel late one evening; the two men form a tentative bond – taking in a bullfight and sharing some secrets – which blossoms into a wholly unconventional relationship, ensnaring Danny's wife, Bean (Hope Davis), in the process. When Julian botches a job in Budapest, Mr. Randy (Philip Baker Hall), the contract killer's mysterious handler, tips him off that several business associates want the increasingly fractured assassin rubbed out, with shadowy figure Lovell (Dylan Baker) urging the handler on. Faced with a crisis that's both personal and professional, Julian enlists the not-quite-willing help of Danny, who finds himself embroiled in a mission to save one man and help kill another.
Billed as a hip, heart-tugging riff on the hit-man genre, The Matador tries unsuccessfully to juggle the story of a debauched, globe-trotting assassin with that of a couple slowly recovering from a devastating tragedy – Shepard's hand at mixing laughs and tears is shaky at best, with many darkly comic scenes turning maudlin, undermining the effectiveness of both the amusing and the sad. Most of my quibbles with The Matador come with its conclusion: Having resolved the plot, the film concludes on a hopeful, almost triumphant note – powered by The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" – that doesn't feel wholly earned. It's plain that Shepard intended a teary-eyed finale that practically overdoses on pathos, but there's also a sense that the characters would scoff at such intentions.
Fortunately, the assembled cast is having such a good time, they smooth over most of the narrative bumps – Brosnan and Kinnear have an innate chemistry that gooses pivotal scenes in The Matador with a startling intensity, while Davis is reliably quirky and the two shadow figures – Hall and Baker – register strongly, despite their limited screen time.
As offbeat popcorn flicks go, you could do a lot worse than The Matador; it's nice to see Brosnan let his hair down in a film of some substance (as opposed to slumming with Brett Ratner in paradise) and Kinnear continues to build a solid resume as a gifted character actor. Were it not for this well-matched pair, The Matador would be a lot further from the bull's-eye than it is. The DVD
The Matador looks stunning with this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer – rich, dark blacks, breathtaking clarity and gorgeously saturated colors are all on hand here. Befitting a recently released film, there's not a defect to be spotted; it's a hair shy of being reference quality. A glorious image. The Audio:
Matching the visuals step for step is the robust, muscular Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, outfitted with an immersive sound-field, kinetic directional effects and pounding bass (explosions and thunderstorms threaten to crack the walls they're so loud). It's a top-notch sonic representation. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included. The Extras:
Thankfully, despite the film's relatively low profile at the box office, a healthy array of supplemental material has been included here, starting with a pair of great commentaries – one from Shepard and one with Shepard, Kinnear and Brosnan – each of which are chatty, densely informative and reveal much of the work that went into making the film. The seven minute, 19 second fullscreen featurette "Making The Matador" is your standard issue behind-the-scenes look at the production; 11 deleted and/or extended scenes are present, playable separately or together for an aggregate of 16 minutes, with optional commentary by Shepard; "Richard Shepard on the Radio" features the director's appearances on NPR's "The Business" and KCRW's "The Treatment" (running 23 minutes, 45 seconds and 28 minutes, 38 seconds, respectively) with a theatrical trailer and TV spot rounding out the disc. Final Thoughts:
The Matador tries unsuccessfully to juggle the story of a debauched, globe-trotting assassin with that of a couple slowly recovering from a devastating tragedy – writer/director Richard Shepard's hand at mixing laughs and tears is shaky at best, with many darkly comic scenes turning maudlin, undermining the effectiveness of both the amusing and the sad. Nevertheless, Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear's chemistry make this a worthwhile spin, with the assembled extras meriting attention as well. Highly recommended.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.