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THE MATADOR

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall
Director: Richard Shepard
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: July 4, 2006

“See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.”

“Smell ya, shouldn’t have to tell ya.”

Film ***1/2

Not since Grosse Pointe Blank (hard to believe that film is almost a decade old already) has the life of a professional assassin been this quirky and oddly messed up. The Matador is a madhouse of a comic ride. Like the aforementioned 1997 John Cusack black comedy, if not as brilliant, it mixes in rich and memorable characters in the oddest of circumstances.

And the film is also given the bonus of having stars Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear delivering two career peak performances. For Brosnan, who has just stepped out of James Bond’s shoes (you will be missed), The Matador is a surefire revelation. Although he’s portrayed various kinds of characters over the years, this is truly a Pierce Brosnan we’ve never seen before.

Brosnan plays the oddly named Julian Noble, because noble he is anything but. He specializes in two specific areas of expertise; killing people as a professional hit man and partaking in scandalous activity with any hookers, or set of hookers, in the country he happens to be operating in. It’s as if certain ingredients were taken from Bond and the nasty rogue agent he played in The Tailor of Panama and rolled into one, and yet, this character remains a pure original.

But Julian’s conscience seems to catch up with him during an assignment in Mexico City, or at least…something has gotten to him. He suddenly finds himself unable to take out the mark ordered to be wiped out. In other words, Julian has lost his edge.

After several displays of irregular behavior, such as strolling through a hotel lobby wearing nothing but a tight Speedo, Julian makes an unexpected acquaintance during this assignment. That person is Danny Wright (Kinnear), an American businessman who’s experiencing something of an unsuccessful business trip. The two meet in a bar and strike up an alcohol-driven exchange of words. It turns out to be the happiest moment Julian has had in possibly his entire existence.

The next day, the two go to a bullfight, where Julian shares with his newly found friend a sort of how-to on his profession. He walks Danny through a scenario of what would go down during a hit and how the whole thing is set up. For Julian, it’s simply a means of cheering Danny up. The night before in the bar, Danny revealed that he is about to lose his job and that four years ago, his son was tragically killed.

The second half of the film takes place months down the road, when Julian tracks Danny down at his home in Denver. It’s clear that he has lost his edge even more and needs that special friendly connection he had in Mexico months before. Danny also mentioned at that point his one true reason for living, his wife Bean (Hope Davis), which also hit a soft spot in Julian, who has spent most of his life running from any sort of emotion.

But Julian has another surprise in store for Danny. It involves one final job that must get done or it may mean that Julian himself may have to be taken out. And to make matters worse for Danny, his help on this last job is strongly requested.

The chemistry between Brosnan and Kinnear, who is the absolute perfect actor to portray the straight man, is prime force of achievement in The Matador. Just about every moment in the film provides a superb moment, but it’s the two leading actors who carry this gem thoroughly and fluently. Hope Davis, always a joy to watch, adds another memorable performance with this film, as well.

The Matador is a film that should be taken by the horns and enjoyed entirely. Fans of quirky black comedies with a great deal of character depth should indeed check this one out. And again, devotees of Pierce Brosnan are in for a big treat with this performance!

Video ****

This stunning anamorphic presentation is easily the best video presentation yet from The Weinstein Company. Color and bright light seem to play a big part in many of the film’s significant camera shots, and the ultimately crisp and clear image quality adds to this effect and results in a magnificent picture. The scenes in Mexico, for one, are simply astonishing to look out. An all around outstanding looking presentation!

Audio ***1/2

Though mostly a dialogue-oriented film, the 5.1 mix supplied shines in numerous areas. Mostly that of music on the soundtrack, including such terrific picks as “Garbageman” by The Cramps, “A Town Called Malice” by The Jam and “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers (one of my favorite bands). Dialogue delivery is strong and clear as can be, and additional technical effects manage to really work the channels big time.

Features ***1/2

This disc also boasts the finest level of extras yet from The Weinstein Co. Included are two commentary tracks; the first with writer/director Richard Shepard, the second with Shepard, Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. Also included are Deleted Scenes, a featurette titled “Making the Matador”, as well as “The Business & The Treatment: Feature Radio Programs Discuss The Matador”, a TV spot and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

The Matador is wicked fun and a must see for those who appreciate character driven comedies with a dark edge. Pierce Brosnsan will truly be looked at in a whole new light to those who are fortunate to see his performance in this solid gem of a film.

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