Judge Clark Douglas is getting ready to assassinate this plate of nachos.
A hitman and a salesman walk into a bar…
It's always been a bit challenging for actors to shake the ghost of James Bond. Historically, Bond actors have either found themselves typecast or taken on all manner of miserable roles for the sake of diversifying their image. Sean Connery had a difficult time nabbing good roles for a long while due to his iconic portrayal of the martini-loving spy. Roger Moore virtually faded into nothingness after his stint as 007 was done. Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby were both unable to successfully capitalize on the shot in the arm the role should have given their respective careers. Next up was Pierce Brosnan, who made a reasonably solid impression as Bond in four films. After the actor was tossed from the series, he faced the same dilemma as his predecessors—how would he successfully demonstrate that he was an actor capable of doing more than variations on the Bond role? The answer: The Matador.
Richard Shepard's film essentially offered Brosnan the perfect post-Bond role; one which both capitalizes on the 007 persona and takes a 180 degree turn away from it. Sure, there are basic similarities between Bond and the role that Brosnan essays in this film. He plays Julian Noble, a high-profile hit man for hire. Like Bond, Julian is a globetrotter, he loves picking up women and he's very good at killing people. Despite these common elements, this character is deliberately the ultimate anti-Bond. This time around, Brosnan couldn't be further from suave, cool, and charming. Alternately, he's a rude, unkempt, alcoholic, lustful, tasteless scoundrel; an audacious character that breaks the actor out of the Bond image in thrilling fashion. It's the seedy underbelly inevitably lying beneath the glossy Bond persona. Brosnan deliberately takes the role and tears it apart with glee in a comic performance that easily ranks as one of his best.
The other principle character is a perfectly ordinary guy named Danny, played by Greg Kinnear (As Good as it Gets). Over the course of his career, Kinnear has developed a kind of perfection to playing the slightly bewildered straight man. He does so once again in this film, and in his own way he provides both a quieter brand of comedy (his humorous moments are more likely to generate laughs on repeats viewings than the first time through) and provides the film with an audience surrogate of sorts. Such roles are often rather bland, but Kinnear makes it his own.
While Danny is on a business trip in Mexico City, he meets Julian by coincidence. Through a series of events I will not reveal, they form a relationship—friendship might be too friendly a word. When Danny leaves Mexico City, he assumes he has left this interesting character behind forever. Alas, through another series of interesting circumstances, Julian winds up at Danny's house a few months later, cheerfully proclaiming himself the guest of Danny and his wife Bean (an amusingly enthralled Hope Davis, The Secret Lives of Dentists).
I would feel guilty about giving you any more of the plot; I don't want to spoil the surprises if you haven't seen the film. However, let it be said that for most of its running time, The Matador is a deliciously entertaining dark comedy, with fantastic chemistry between Kinnear and Brosnan. Kinnear has rarely been so amusingly Steve Martin-esque and Brosnan (chewing on the scenery as if it were his last meal) turns in one of the most delightfully unhinged performances of his career.
You may have raised an eyebrow when I said the film is funny for most of its running time. Does it run out of steam in the home stretch? No. Rather, it takes a tonal left turn. In certain moments littered throughout the film and most sharply in the movie's final scenes, The Matador surprises us by reaching into a well of human emotion and creating scenes that few comedies dare to explore lest they spoil the party. The Matador is a film which realizes that comedy is often better-equipped to explore human nature than drama. Not content to be simply a giggle-fest at the expense of Brosnan's Bond image, the film reaches for something deeper and achieves its goals admirably. The film's offbeat, dark brand of comedy won't suit everyone's tastes, but The Matador is a small-scale gem.
The Matador received an HD-DVD release ('member those?) way back in 2006 and is finally making its way to Blu-ray. The film certainly looks sharp in hi-def, offering excellent detail throughout. The colorful Mexican locales are particularly vibrant, though darker scenes are a bit less impressive (there's a bit of black crush on occasion). Flesh tones tend to be a little on the orange side, but it's not too problematic. Audio is excellent, with Rolfe Kent's playful score (some of which hews rather close to his memorable Dexter theme) coming through with strength and clarity. The dialogue is a tad quiet on occasion, but not so much that you'll feel a need to adjust the volume much. One explosion early on will rock your speaker system, but otherwise this is a subdued track. All of the supplements are from the archives: A commentary with Shepard, a second track with Shepard, Kinnear, and Brosnan, a limp making-of featurette (16 minutes), some deleted scenes and a trailer. Missing from the DVD and HD-DVD releases are a pair of lengthy radio interviews with Shepard.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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