Friday, 24 August 2007
The Matador (2005) dir. Richard Shepard
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear
“The Matador” is an Elmore Leonard wannabe film about a depressed hitman whose chance meeting with a lowly salesman in a hotel turns his career around to make a better and more respectable life for himself. The writer/director creates some interesting characters but doesn’t take them to the places they need to go make the film dramatic or suspenseful. The film works well as a poignant black comedy, but I wish it was more blacker than comedic.
Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) is a suave hitman. He’s also a burned out drunk and a despicable womanizer. While casing his next hit, he meets a suburban middle class salesman, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in a Mexico City hotel bar. They strike up an unusual friendship, which takes them to a bullfight. There Julian reveals to Danny the truth about his job. Danny doesn’t believe him, and Julian proceeds to demonstrate by stalking and attempting to do a random hit on a bystander. He doesn’t go through with it, but Danny is convinced he’s the real deal.
With 20 years behind him, Julian’s on his last days as a hitman. Danny's description of his blissful domestic life sticks with Julian. Suddenly he has a conscience, which makes his job difficult. But Danny’s life isn’t as blissful as it looks. Their unlikely friendship continues beyond Mexico City when Julian shows up unannounced at his Denver home in the middle of night. He’s come to ask Julian for a favour of extreme consequence that will affect both their lives forever.
The film is a black comedy with all the violence left off screen or dramatized with humour. The film concentrates on character instead of situation. As a result much of drama of the danger is lost. We never get to see Danny's reactions to these life-changing events. The flip side of this is the way director Richard Shepard hides this information from us. It’s a bit of forced narrative manipulation (think of the unnecessary narrative shifting “21 Grams”), but it does provide some surprising reveals, especially at the end.
I can’t help but think of how the film could have been different (and better) if we saw the violent moments on screen. Pierce Brosnan was one of the producers. He’s a good looking dude, but has never stretched himself as an actor. Brosnan could have taken the film in a darker direction and really made a name for himself outside of James Bond. Instead he chose to stay with light and whimsical. This is a reason why no one younger than 60 ever went to a film because Pierce Brosnan was in it.
The film looks terrific. Shepard and DOP David Tattersall bathe the Mexico scenes in beautiful colours and bright sunlight. Each scene is staged and directed well. Shepard chooses his music well also. His final music choice, which takes us into the credits is perfect for the tone of the film.
The title of the film refers to the bullfighting scene which is the key scene in solidifying Julian and Danny’s friendship. To me, it’s a metaphor for the cathartic enjoyment of violence and the bloodlust we all have deep within ourselves. In this scene Danny ignites Julian’s benevolent side, but Julian also ignites Danny’s malevolent side. The film never shows the bull being killed, nor do we see Julian’s victims be killed. It’s a consistent cinematic choice, but is it the right one? It’s for you to decide. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Matador (Widescreen Edition)