View Full Version : Richard Shepherd: The Matador (2005)

Chris Knipp
01-01-2006, 01:07 PM
Richard Shepard: The Matador (2005)

Another high-concept movie

Review by Chris Knipp

Posing as a comic noir like the wittier Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this movie is really just an amoral string of jokes and stereotypes in a glossy package with the ‘high concept’ of a hit man facing a midlife crisis blended with an attraction-of-opposites theme. Two men meet in a Mexico City bar, Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), who we’ve already been shown is a killer, and Danny Wright (Greg Kinear), an ordinary guy with a run of bad luck. The none-too-subtly named good guy Wright has lost a son in an accident 3+ years ago, and been out of work for some time. He’s here to pitch a big contract with a partner. Just before he left on this trip we have seen him having impetuous sex with his wife when a big tree falls into the room and breaks it open. Ha ha. Sex in The Matador is always crude – Julian has a taste for young girls and a steady diet of hookers – and quick. In the bar where the two chug margaritas, Wright talks about his lost son, and the sleazy, heartless Julian retorts with a dirty joke. His tendency is to cause offense. Despite his apparent hyper-heterosexuality, he throws out gay innuendoes just to make Danny uneasy.

Not withstanding deep offenses and bad jokes, the two, both lonely and in the case of Wright nervous over the Mexican company’s coming decision, stay together for several days, during which Julian proves (more or less) that he wasn’t fibbing when he said it was his job to kill people. This will be the only practical bit of business in the story, which is mostly dialogue with colorful backgrounds or mere large place labels (VIENNA, DENVER, etc.), and reads like a stage play except for two key scenes set in stadiums. The dry-run “hit” demo happens in a bull fighting arena, and the actual bullfight shots somehow take on the sleaze of the slim, schlockily dressed professional killer of men. Julian has a handler, Mr. Randy (Philip Baker Hall in a minor role) on whom he is utterly dependent. In the transitional scene, Julian knocks on Danny’s hotel door late at night, apologizing for another offense and apparently wanting to ask his help on an assignment. . .

Cut to six months later, when Julian again appears late at night knocking on the door of Danny’s house in Denver. Danny’s luck has changed and things are okay now. His wife Bean (Hope Davis) has heard all about Julian and despite the late hour is interested and titillated and wants to see his gun. As handled by the suave Ms. Davis this is mildly funny and the situation as before has a level of tension. In this second sequence we learn that Julian has begun to lose his edge and is in danger of not only forced retirement but death. Then surprises happen, with several twists before we come to the end.

There are a few real laughs (not many) and both Kinnear and Brosnan perform with confidence. The audience is meant to be amused also at the former James Bond playing this down-market version of 007 and doing it convincingly and with a flourish. Not surprisingly Kinnear is believable as a good-guy schlub; he too has been de-glamorized. The trouble is that due to the screenplay’s crude, story-board conceptions of the action, neither character is given any depth. The hit man is by definition empty inside. There is no mystery other than why he does it: hence his loss of motivation becomes obvious even before it happens. As Danny Wright, Kinnear has his usual palatable appeal, but his version of the ordinary man is as much dorky as simpatico. This is no complex Willy Loman type: his personality is a mix of forced smiles and puppy-dog looks. The relationship’s obvious explanation that opposites attract is a shallow cliché. The story might have had true interest had the action led to full moral compromise on the part of Danny. Restricting the audience hook to Wright’s and his wife’s queasy attraction to violence keeps the outcome shallow. And the plot twists pale compared to real con mind-benders like The Grifters, Five Queens, or The Spanish Prisoner.

01-21-2006, 10:38 PM
Every so often you walk out of a movie realizing that you didn't exactly witness greatness, but you aren't ready to ask for your money back. Richard Shepard's The Matador is just a lot of fun. It isn't overwhelming, it isn't a non-stop laugh riot, but it's endearing and above all entertaining. It's a diversion, something to take you out of the every day world and put you in another one, or in this case all around the world. I would call it escapist entertainment, and it is done without a load of green screens and without any special effects to speak of.

The film has at it's core one hell of a performance. That performance is from Pierce Brosnan, who never remotely hinted at this type of potential in his other roles. He's bored of Bond, and not surprising that he would jump at this one. He can be smooth, pathetic, manipulative, but always likeable. Even at his worst which he often is, you pull for this guy. Brosnan stumbles around drunk, dazed, but at his core terribly lonely. Sure these mercenary killers are loners, but rarely do we really get to see how removed they are from society, Julian doesn't even have a home at all, simply living one job to the next. Not surprising to get a little burnt out after 22 years of it.

Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis do fine work in their largely supporting roles. You get the feeling that they do love each other, and each of them has a sweet side that you also want to pull for. Yet this isn't your typical odd couple film were the crazy eccentric bad guy makes the straight good guy "live a little". Instead, Kinnear very much remains the man he was, but with a slightly better streak of luck. No doubt his meeting with Julian changed him, but not in a boring conventional Hollywood way. Likewise I can't say that Julian's meeting Danny helped him much. Sure he profited by it, and maybe now he has one person he can truly call a friend, but as a character Julian is every bit the manipulative charming assassin out for self preservation. You can never take anything he says too seriously, and that's what keeps you on your toes.

This isn't a film that tries to shock you with twists and turns. There are a few moments, but you stop and say "oh that's it". Not as a let down, but to say that it isn't what this film is about. Some movies try to make themselves based on plot twists, perhaps the Matador might be a better film with more revelatory circumstances, but it would be a different film altogether, and it would lose that laid back charm that it has. The film is light and easy, just like Julian, and that is for me the appropriate tone. I may be stepping over the line here but I think that Pierce Brosnan deserves an Oscar for his work here, and the sad thing is he won't even get a nomination. For a lead actor, I have found his performance here to be the best I've seen of any 2005 film, and that may be a bold statement. Perhaps it is because all the other Academy front runners got too much publicity, but I think that humor can go a long way. Brosnan isn't playing a famous person, but a character that we wouldn't have expected from him. It's a stretch and it works. His meltdown at the race track is just as moving as anything from Brokeback Mountain or Capote, and at least this film is much more light so you don't have the overburden of seeing suffering disguised as "art".

Grade B

Chris Knipp
01-22-2006, 12:02 AM
I agree with a lot of your assessment of the movie, though I think you went a bit overboard on Pierce Brosnan's performance. YOu can tell from my review that I prefer the real hardcore noir stuff to this, but I fully grant that it can be quite entertaining, and that Brosnan is the main reason for that.

01-22-2006, 01:09 AM
I just kept thinking while watching it that I haven't seen a better male performance this year. I know it may seem odd, but I really think he was the best out there, and Christ knows I've seen enough movies from the past year to make an informed decision. Perhaps other movies are better, but I think this is anchored more by it's performances than it's story, which certainly isn't the first time. Walk the Line was a similar movie better for it's acting than the film itself, but that had a tendency to take itself far too seriously. Although I am leaning towards Reese Witherspoon as my favorite actress of 2005.

Chris Knipp
01-22-2006, 12:40 PM

02-01-2006, 01:28 AM
In the context of today's contemporary world, this little movie hits on one of the most important existential issues of our age, the meaning of living and human dignity and respect. Too often, critics search for complex and deep and dense subject matter instead of the more fundamental life issues. The tone of this delightful movie is nuanced and close to but never over the top. It's a finely delicate, simple movie with a brilliant performance by Pierce Brosnan about everyman. Pierce Brosnan who questions his life and another Greg Kinear, a more common businessman faced with ethical dilemmas and stress and fear - something very much in the minds of most men today. These roles ARE the roles that most of us must confront, from sex to marital responsibility, to suriviving somehow in a cutthroat employment world. In this difficult but excellent script that balances and moves effortless between comedy, real world male humor, and the incredulous, to the burnt out experience that many of us feel, The Matador is probably the one movie this year that is most reflects us as individual human beings and has the potential to connect with each of more intimately on important matters than any other movie in 2005.

Unlike George Clooney (Syriana , Pierce Brosnan's role is more complex, more realistic, and believable. Clooney's character is disturbing more for its illogical portrayal of an experienced operate who doesn't come across at all experienced and there is no explanation why not. Unlike Brad Pitt's role in Spy Game (1999) or Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity (2002), George's character just doesn't come across as credible. At least Pierce Brosnan has the poise and the psychological deconstruction that he exhibits as a fascinating performance that a substantial number of us human beings may have felt at one time or another. Pierce's role is superior than Clooney's in that again the sophisticated acting requirements of blending sauve, raw crudeness, humor, and bewilderment, and drama is much more involved than Clooney's more two-dimensional character of befuddlement, false bravado, and drama (that any decent actor is required to be able to do).

Unlike Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang which I found to have uneven pacing and awkward editing, tries too hard to be cute, along with a hard edge (the political correct in fashion thing nowadays), The Matador offers its viewers a more uplifting Lost In Translation of a minimalist plot, except with some dazzling, subtle, low-keyed triple twists at the end of this movie that ranks among the best soft and entertaining climaxes in a movie yet. This movie stands out for its not attempting a seriously consistently dark singular dramatic, complex personality - most people are not in real life experienced that way by other people and so to this movie offers us a more superficial but still vastly meaningly look at the behaviors of these characters in ways that can resonate more deeply than most other movies of 2005 out there if one is willing to look.

Finally, it is not surprising that Mr. Brosnan offers up one of the best male performances of 2005 as his two earlier works strongly suggested and provided evidence of his acting ability - The Tailor of Panama (2001) where he plays a surprisingly similar, not quick as crude intelligence operative and Nomads (1986), my third favorite movie of all time where Brosnan plays a European anthropologist in a role totality out of his other characters in a clearly believable, haunting, and mysteriously eerie thriller.

Chris Knipp
02-01-2006, 11:00 AM
I get that you liked The Matador, but I don't find your remarks convincing. You might try comparing it with some of the best movies of 2005. Your comparisons don't even come from the same year except for Syriana and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which, while more interesting than The Matador and more intelligent, are not the year's best by any means.

02-02-2006, 12:23 AM
Chris Knipp posted:

I get that you liked The Matador, but I don't find your remarks convincing. You might try comparing it with some of the best movies of 2005. Your comparisons don't even come from the same year except for Syriana and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which, while more interesting than The Matador and more intelligent, are not the year's best by any means.

I had this same problematic response on another website. Sigh. It's so simple for any person to state in one sentence "I don't find your remarks convincing." Open and shut case. Jury and Judge and Sentence withou the trial. I find it frustrating sometimes to hold a discussion when there isn't any discussion. It's simple comes down to I don't agree so there! Oh well. I guess that the state of discussion or the lack of it. No retort or counter argument except to point out some of my examples aren't from the same year as if that matters, especially when I'm talking about Pierce Brosnan's past performances in support of his acting ability - how many performances in the same year by the same acting is realistic to quote anyway for any actor usually?

And when it comes to performances and specific genre how many spy movies do come out in any one year? I think such narrow restrictions about movie discussion to a single year instead of the technical and performance merits about film allows one to discuss movies from any time period if any legitimate discussion is to occur.

I hope I don't have a King Kong (2005) debate on this board too - pun intended. It took literally five or six hours of my time to go back and forth on that movie on another board.

Chris Knipp
02-02-2006, 12:35 AM
IT's a simple point. You said it was one of the best films of the year and then you only compare it with films from other years. That's a pretty good reason for not finding your response convincing. If you want to know my argument about the film, you can read my review. Nobody has really said it is one of the best of the year. You went overboard. I know people like it and find it funny. I don't. I think it is lame through and through. Sorry.

02-03-2006, 05:25 PM
If we're signing up for sides in this war, I'm with tabuno, I loved The Matador. Granted my rating might not be exceptionally high, but it was entertaining, and Brosnan was fantastic.

02-18-2006, 04:13 PM
Chris Knipp posted:

IT's a simple point. You said it was one of the best films of the year and then you only compare it with films from other years. That's a pretty good reason for not finding your response convincing. If you want to know my argument about the film, you can read my review. Nobody has really said it is one of the best of the year. You went overboard. I know people like it and find it funny. I don't. I think it is lame through and through. Sorry.

I'm very surprised that you would suggest that anyone who evaluates one's best movie of the year selections using movies from another year is a good reason for an argument to be not convincing. Now if I had said that I felt that a movie was the best of all time and then only used examples from the same year the movie was released than I believe you would have a very strong logical and cinematic argument. But I don't think you can argue the opposite the way I have. If I compare and evaluate The Matador in relationship to another movie from other years, I would argue that it makes for an even stronger case, because the movie must compete with a larger, even more qualitative challenge. To be able to leap outside time periods and judge a movie by a similar movie genre instead of trying to focus on an eclectic list of movies of the same year I think overly restricts this discussion about quality.

02-18-2006, 05:00 PM
If one must conform to your much narrower criteria for film discussion, then one must. So be it. Movies of 2005.

As I previously mentioned before using a "2005" movie (in the same post that you complained about discussing movies of other years) and that you used in your own review, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, you described this movie wittier. Thus, it I would assume that you judged this movie better than The Matador. So let's start with Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and ignore that in your own review you somehow allow mention of plot twists comparisons to The Grifters (1990), Five Queens (year unknown, not listed with the Internet Film Database), and The Spanish Prisoner (1997).

What Chris found wittier in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang I found overly dramatic, contrived, and manipulative that drew me away from this dark comedy. Nor were the characters were not particularly appealing nor really all that authentic. What was impressive in The Matador was the particularly successful twists, not just one or two of them, but three of them that provided a refreshing, different, and challenging way to end a movie, unlike Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang that seemed to end with one twist that wasn't that unique or different. Chris found much to compliment and like about this movie according to his review:

"both Kinnear and Brosnan perform with confidence"
"the former James Bond playing this down-market version of 007 and doing it convincingly and with a flourish."
"Not surprisingly Kinnear is believable as a good-guy schlub."

What Chris has problems in his opinion is with the crude, story-board screenplay's conceptions of the action, neither character is given any depth. "The hitman is by definition empty inside." Chris wanted to see the action leading to "full moral compromise."

What Chris has problems with are the very features that make this movie so believably refreshing and authentic and one of the best of the year. Like another movie that was hotly debated in another year due to its minimalist approach to character and plot development, Lost In Translation (2003), The Matador doesn't have to rely on the deep, complexity of the soul but sticks to the real mental issues that in many ways we the ordinary audience and perhaps many others face day to day. This is the real deal, not some multi-sessioned psycho-dynamic analysis 2-hour style that leads to a "full moral compromise." Instead what he get is a more American version of a satisfying resolution that is optimistic rather than conflicted and morose. Sometimes, it's nice to avoid the deeper issues of paranoia, conspiracy theory, social issues and just plain deal with communication, mid-life crises, and plain human emotions that we can all relate to. That's what makes this movie one of the best, because it really connects in an unusual way to more universal, basic live issues that we as people confront everyday, except we don't go around shooting people for money, but sometimes we do things that we can easily relate to in this movie.