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MATADOR (***Ĺ)
Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed & Written by: Richard Shepard
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis
Running time: 97 minutes, Released: 12/30/06.
Rated R
for strong sexual content and language.
Opening in a few markets on the North Side The Matador is the first film done by Pierce Brosnan since he was replaced as James Bond by Layer Cakeís Daniel Craig but thatís only in a technical sense. The film was done, cut and has been making the festival circuit since early 2005 but with the break up between Disney and the Weinstein Brothers the film went into a completed film version of what is called ĎDevelopment Hellí. This is one of the first films released under their new company and it is one you need to go out of your way to see.

The film begins with the preparation of a business trip by Danny Wright (Kinnear of ĎAuto Focusí fame). He is married to the unusually named Bean (ĎAmerican Splendorísí Hope Davis) and they have a pretty active sex life. He is traveling to Mexico City to arrange a business deal that would get him back on the job rolls if only he could convince the right people to hire him. The opening establishes that the two love each other very much. Kinnear is in full nebbish mode here with old styled glasses and a look of perpetual pain on his face. The look is entirely necessary for the development of his character.

Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a tweaked version of his suave cool Bond character but we discover later that Julian is anything but cool. Heís wearing crappy shirts and the mustache on his face in a bit slight but we naturally blend him with the Bond character so we give him the benefit of suave. Julian is as he says Ďfacilitates fatalitiesí and he is Mexico City to do just that.

Julian and Danny meet up casually in a bar at the hotel and begin talking just because there isnít anyone else there so what the heck. The men make small talk and an attempt at making a short term friend is there but Shepard adds a twist to the scene that will set up the relationship that follows. As the night continues Danny tells Julian that he and Bean have lost a son. The story is slowly told and you can sense the sadness in Danny but Julianís response is to tell an off color joke. It is rude and highly insensitive but it shows us that Brosnanís character is completely lost in regular life. The almost friendship never happens and we are left with Brosnan sitting alone in the bar.
 
We get a further idea that Brosnan is losing it the following morning where he wanders down to the pool by way of the lobby wearing tight Speedos and boots as if he hasnít a care in the world. He encounters Danny and is made to apologize for his behavior. As a way to make things up Julian invites Danny to a bull fight. As the two sit watching the action after a slight bit of prodding Kinnear learns what Brosnan does for a living. Shepard cuts between the matador and the bull as Kinnear wonders if he is being played with again. As proof that he is serious Kinnear gets an instant tutorial of how an assassin needs to think and work in a magnificent scene that makes you wonder just how far the lesson will go. Itís a scenario straight out of ĎStrangers on a Trainí with the ultra smooth Brosnan literally seducing Kinnear into almost killing someone just as an exercise. For those of you who have never seen ĎStrangersí or read the Patricia Highsmith (the creator of amoral killer Tom Ripley) the story was used to comic effect in ĎThrow Momma from the Trainí. There as in here a character (Julian) is willing to do another character (Danny) a favor of death but only if the favor is returned. We see that Danny is pretty fascinated about what Julian does and when it is suggested that the two help each other in a cafť the relationship never reaches the third date stage. We are left at a null point that evening with a crash leaving us wondering what has happened.

Shepard jumps us forward to Denver where itís Christmas time (yes I used the word and didnít Bill OíReilly look like an idiot on the Letterman show this week?) at the Wright household. Danny and Bean (Davis) share a moment where Bean tells him about their courtship and that Danny told her how beautiful she was. Itís a great moment because Davis will never be described as classically attractive but considered interesting looking. As the two share a moment suddenly the bell rings and up pops Julian, eager to reconnect with his Ďfriendí. The scene is awkward because we feel the same way that Danny does. He doesnít want to see Julian and thought he was never going to see him again but the guy is there in his living room dancing with his wife. And to top it all off Bean is fascinated with Julian and even asks him ĎDid you bring your gun?í Julian moves in for the night and meets the coupleís young son who witnesses him on a job. Things are somewhat awkward and then it comes out-Julian is having troubles at work. He is having panic attacks and has botched a very crucial job given to him by his handler, Mr. Randy (Hall). We have seen him as a bit off but this time he seems to be going completely off the deep end and if he screws up his next assignment he becomes the target instead of the hunter. The question is: will Danny help his Ďfriendí become the man he was or leave him out in the snow? And what did happen the night in Mexico City after Danny left Julian at the cafť?

The concluding scene in the film is set at a horse race that parallels the bull fight sequence seen earlier. Shepard mixes thrills with comedy and we are left at a good place as the credits roll.

Shepard constructs the film as a series of set pieces broken up with long segments of dialogue. His decision to do so gives the film a random feel that never leaves you at a certain comfort level. Itís a thriller, a comedy and a series of character studies all at the same time that focuses its attention on the main characters. Davis is great here as the supportive, regular girl who is as sexy as she needs to be. Shepard uses Spider-Manís Dylan Baker well in one scene and Paul Thomas Anderson regular Phillip Baker Hall shines in his two scenes as Brosnanís handler. Kinnear began as an actor after appearing as the wise ass host of Eís ĎTalk Soupí and has developed into a solid performer. Just to look at him here you would see a nebbish guy at first glance but there is a solid core inside of him that allows him to save someone who is truly lost. It would be easy for Danny to blow Julian off but he as we can see that there is a person inside Julian that needs to be saved and Danny and Bean are the only ones who can.

The true star here is Brosnan who takes what he could have played as a stock character and shows no fear in looking silly when the part demands it. He plays with his film image and gives us a character that is one of the most complicated people that I have seen in a film in a while. Julian is confident, insensitive, efficient, screwed up, and absolutely lost. He has no home, no connections to the world save his short meetings with Hall and seems to exist only in the moment he is needed. I would doubt that most leading men would put on a cheerleader outfit but he does and seems to have fun doing so. If this film moves towards this side of town anytime take a chance and go but if not take a trip downtown and have some Cajun food from Heaven on Seven after the movie.

MATADOR © 2006 The Weinstein Company.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2006 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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