Written by Chris Morgan
If people know Pierce Brosnan as an actor at all, it is probably from his stint as James Bond. Unless they are kicking it old school as Remington Steele fans, of course. However, all actors eventually have to move on from that iconic role, and when Brosnan did he stepped into the lead role in The Matador, a “dark comedy” starring him and Greg Kinnear. Dark comedy is in quotation marks because to consider this a “comedy” is to stretch the definition of the word. That, or the comedy is real hard to find in this movie. Perhaps Richard Shepard, who wrote and directed it, just has an odd, subtle sense of humor. Although, Brosnan’s character is too big for it to be likely there is any subtlety in this movie.
Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a hitman who is falling apart at the seams. His solution is to get tremendously drunk on a daily basis and engage in all sorts of sordid sexual congress. However, he remains strung out and unhappy, and then one day in Mexico City he runs into Kinnear’s Danny Wright, who is just your typical white-collar, suburban guy who has a couple sex scenes for some reason because this movie likes its sex scenes. They start chatting at the bar, and then for some reason Danny starts hanging out with Julian. He finds out the truth about Julian, but for some reason they keep being friendly. Then, when things get worse for Julian, with no place to go, Julian shows up at Danny’s house, and for some reason Danny and his wife let him in.
The phrase “for some reason” was repeated there with intent, because this movie never takes the time to explain why Danny would be willing to hang out with this repulsive contract killer. Why didn’t he run off immediately? Maybe there is a reason, but we never find it out. In fact, we never really learn anything about Danny. He’s just a blank slate, but he’s being asked to help carry a two-hander of a movie. This just doesn’t work. His wife being cool with it makes little sense also. As the movie heads toward its conclusion, it tries to redeem Julian to some degree, which just doesn’t work, and flies in the face of all of his actions during the movie. It’s a strange choice, and an only mildly successful one. All the The Killers songs in the world can’t save them, nor can a seemingly unironic usage of Asia’s “Heat of the Moment.”
The Matador‘s main problem is that aside from providing depth into Julian’s depravity and frayed mental state, it can’t find any success. Sure, Julian is built well. The character is funny at times, and he’s somewhat interesting to follow around. Brosnan’s top-notch performance certainly helps. He is very good as Julian, as he is given the chance to actually give a nuanced, ugly performance. It is far from the calm cool of 007, or whoever he played in Mama Mia!. However, nobody else in the movie, and pretty much the only other person in the movie is Kinnear, is operating on Brosnan’s level. Kinnear isn’t given much to work with, but he does nothing with what he’s given. Hope Davis plays his wife. She has a monologue that she sounds like she’s been rehearsing for years. This was probably not the intent of the dialogue. Adam Scott has a small role, which is funny, provided you find it humorous to see Scott in a brief, non-descript role in a movie like The Matador.
Brosnan did the best he could getting the chance to step out of the role of James Bond. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make The Matador anything more than decent at best. The plot is meandering and, at times, puzzling. The vast majority of the characters are two-dimensional at best. Brosnan is enjoyable to watch, funny and suitably unctuous for the role of a morally bankrupt hitman, but everything else is a bore.
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