Genius Products // 2005 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // July 17th, 2006
Sexy, seductive, and enticingly secretive, the "hired gun" is the stuff of many folks' daydreams. Men want to be him, women want to love him, and his targets duly fear him. But what happens to this ice-blooded individual once he's passed his prime?
Forget James Bond and Remington Steele, since here you'll see the typically dashing and debonair Pierce Brosnan in more of a "candid" moment. If ever you tried to picture Brosnan sacked out on a sofa, sporting two-day beard growth and wearing whatever was at the top of the hamper, try no more -- meet Julian Noble, the anti-Bond, non-Steele, and all around seedy sort of has-been.
If you were to ask him directly, Julian Noble (Brosnan) may eventually divulge that he's in the profession of "elimination." He's no run-of-the-mill hit man but, rather, is an elite "facilitator of fatalities." Well, he was, anyway. Today, Julian seems more than burnt out, his former existence replete with fine women and fine food now replaced by cheap hookers and concession stand cuisine. He's still dispensing death for pay, but he's lost his edge, lost his appeal, and may now be losing his mind. Lack of moderation, apparently, has caught up with old Julian.
Meanwhile, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear, Mystery Men), a Colorado-based businessman, is about to have a run-in with destiny. While visiting Mexico to land a much-need business contract, Danny befriends the lonely Julian over a margarita in a hotel bar. These two improbable compatriots form what would seem to be a fleeting friendship ("Just consider me the best cocktail party story you've ever met," asserts Julian), as they walk through a plausible hit job at a Mexican bullfight. It's all very fascinating to Danny until Julian implores him to assist in an actual hit. Danny refuses and the two part ways, leaving the Colorado businessman with one hell of an experience marked by a souvenir bullfight ticket. Six months later, Danny and his wife, "Bean" (Hope Davis, About Schmidt), are abruptly awakened by a rapping on their front door. Julian has paid an unexpected visit and again implores Danny to help him with one final hit that could deliver an escape for the frayed facilitator.
The Matador comes on like a sucker punch but the sort that is administered in jocular fashion through friendly rough-housing. Indisputably, the film works due to the casting of the highly recognizable Brosnan in the role of Julian. For everything Brosnan has done to portray cool and calculating characters in his past, his performance of Julian completely undoes it all -- to excellent effect. Writer/Director Richard Shepard rightly notes it as a major coup to have secured the high-profile actor. Brosnan provides his absolute commitment to the character and never flinches even when delivering some highly irreverent and wholly unexpected lines. Brosnan shows up sporting that sofa sloth look, seeming like a fellow who should be unbearably uncomfortable in his own clothes and completely embarrassed by his actions. He goes on to completely dismiss any compunction over his appearance or behavior, giving Julian absolute depth and interest so that, filthy as he is, he's simultaneously impossibly to turn away from.
Greg Kinnear as Danny is likewise well suited to his role and delivers a convincing performance as the caring but cautious "everyman." Like any of us, he's quick to assess that Julian's playing with a few cards missing yet is compassionate enough to recognize the fellow is down in the dumps. The manner in which he carefully befriends Julian -- in small, calculated doses -- is believable, to be sure. His wide-eyed awe of Julian's profession and proven capabilities is perfectly boyish and makes the pairing of the two all the more interesting to behold.
It's clear, then, that Shepard set about to deliver a farce of sorts, one that he confesses he believed could only be performed by sock puppets. The logo-laden opening indicates that this independent feature reached into several backers' pockets to be realized on the screen and the money appears to have been well spent. With his expectations set low, Shepard crafted a witty and wild script that is never weighted down by pre-conceived notions of such-and-such actor who would never say or do such things on the screen. By not writing the roles for specific actors in mind, Shepard successfully develops believable characters -- albeit one severely eccentric -- in a way that's pleasing and refreshing in this day of template-driven personality types. The script is a bit unsteady as it works to insert a serious undertone of the personal grief Danny and Bean are grappling with, attempting to make it more plausible that the affable businessman could ever become involved with the outlandish lifestyle of Julian. While this particular aspect of the narrative doesn't fully succeed, it doesn't torpedo the proceedings either. All in all, The Matador unfolds as a film that's best viewed without preconceived notions and allowed to unravel in its own enjoyably quirky style.
This new DVD presented by Genius Products arrives in fine form. The feature transfer, anamorphically rendered in a 2.35:1 widescreen format, is remarkably spotless. The film is heavy on large areas of vibrant primary colors; they're well managed here with steady saturation and free of annoying macroblocking that often afflicts such situations. The detail level is crisp and the image remains uniformly sharp, only undermined at infrequent instances of inaccurate focus pull (one such instance occurring at the film's opening and to which Shepard fesses up). Dark scenes, few though they are, provide excellent black level management and steady contrast control in a way that maintains appropriate visible detail. Truly, this is a transfer to be applauded. The English audio track is offered in a solitary but satisfying Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix that makes commendable use of the entire soundstage. The lively score is well dispersed across the front and back channels, the directional effects have a natural movement, and an early explosion and a savage thunderstorm will rock the LFE. Throughout it all, the dialogue is completely clear and fully intelligible.
As with the main feature, so to do the extras meet and exceed expectations. There are two running commentaries on board, the first with a very talkative and informative Shepard and the second in which the writer/director is joined by Brosnan and Kinnear. Thankfully, Shepard isn't bashful about drawing out comments from the co-stars and does a fine job of moderating the anecdotal input from his two cast members for the duration of the picture. Next up is a seven-minute featurette, Making The Matador, an enjoyable if not dutifully fluffy promotional piece. There are eleven deleted scenes that account for sixteen minutes of additional material. Aside from the commentaries the two lengthiest features are the radio segments with Shepard as he appeared on NPR's The Business (running time: 23 minutes) and KCRW's The Treatment (running time: 28 minutes). The bonus features are rounded out with a TV spot and the original theatrical trailer.
Forget about swooning to Brosnan in this feature unless you're enticed by drunken debauchers. Really, the character of Julian is slimy if not somewhat sympathetic. Some may contend that the usually dapper Brosnan has committed a severe miscalculation in accepting this role but, clearly, this is a performance in which the typecast actor shows he has an accomplished range. Bravo!
The Matador is clearly not a family film for its language and sexual content but for two consenting adults looking for a true departure, this film comes highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Commentary with Richard Shepard
* Commentary with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Richard Shepard
* Featurette: Making The Matador
* Radio Program Discussions of The Matador
* TV Spot
* Theatrical Trailer