The Matador

I have never been a big fan of Pierce Brosnan. I never watched any of his Bond performances all the way through (although the bits I did see made me think that he and the role were a good match.) He seems to have a long history of playing thieves or spies, but with the exception of the disappointing remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, I haven’t made any effort to watch them. In fact, the only thing he starred in that I really enjoyed was The Fourth Protocol, a Cold War thriller from 1987. Finally, after 19 years, Brosnan has added a second movie to my list of personal recommendations, The Matador, out now on DVD. In The Matador, Brosnan plays Julian Noble, an alcoholic hit-man who moves from city to city at the behest of Mr. Randy (Phillip Baker Hall.) Julian doesn’t work for governments; he’s a corporate hit-man, facilitating business transactions by removing obstacles with a bomb or rifle. Julian is also burnt-out with a capital B. He has no friends, no home, and no one to call when he realizes it’s his birthday. Brosnan is playing well against type here and his Julian is so isolated (he gets his only companionship from hookers) that his social skills are non-existent.

When Julian meets Danny (Greg Kinnear) in a hotel bar in Mexico, his lack of interaction skills result in him making several inappropriate and offensive comments. Danny, in town to close a desperately needed business deal, is shocked and disgusted but gives Julian multiple chances to start over. Julian is desperate for any human contact that doesn’t result in someone being killed, so he pursues Danny with tickets to see the bullfights. At the fights, Julian tells Danny exactly what he does for a living and the incredulous Danny laughs it off until Julian puts his skills in action.

The DVD cover and other promotional materials lead you to believe that this movie is a thriller with a little comedy on the side, or maybe a buddy action picture. In reality, it’s a comedy tinged with sadness about Julian’s desire to make a connection. This is a man who can’t hold a normal conversation without inserting a joke about a schlong or talk to a woman without offering her money in exchange for sex. Brosnan gives an excellent and funny performance as he constantly causes your jaw to drop with offensive and hilarious comments about life, women, employment, and the “everybody’s gotta pee” theory of assassination.

Kinnear continues to impress me after starting his career as that guy on “Talk Soup” whose ass you always wanted to kick. His regular guy Danny, married to a woman named Bean (Hope Davis), plays straight man to Brosnan without ever getting overwhelmed. It’s hard to pull off a guy who hears that someone is a assassin but doesn’t either run or refuse to believe. He doesn’t get the great lines that Brosnan does, but holds his own as the unlikely friendship winds up in Danny’s Denver home. Julian runs to Danny when he is in trouble because, despite having only spent one day together six months before; Danny is Julian’s only friend.

Writer/Director Richard Shepard has made a small movie that doesn’t try to do too much. Brosnan gives the performance of his career to this point and pokes a little fun at his globe-trotting super spy characters. Showing what happens when those guys start to see sharks in the swimming pool and themselves at the other end of the rifle scope. The movie breezes along at a compact 97 minutes, not letting too much “depth” get in the way of the laughs or the resolution of how Julian will cope when he just can’t pull the trigger anymore.

Brosnan received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, which I think caught some people by surprise. The movie did pretty poorly in its theatrical release but recognition of Brosnan's performance is well deserved. As long as you go in knowing what you are not going to get: blow-em-up action or the sort of inane banter seen in the latest Will Smith movie. I don’t see the movie as groundbreaking, and the plot is a bit weak, but the strong performances are worth watching. Brosnan will make you laugh and Kinnear is believable as a businessman in an almost unbelievable situation. In addition, you get some great music on the soundtrack, including Asia doing "In the Heat of the Moment" which is gold for any 80's music fan like me. All that and a bullfight. What more could you ask. Before I get to the extras, I want to rant a bit. The disc that I reviewed of The Matador required that I sit through three full previews before the movie started. I've seen these before and usually I can fast forward or jump through the previews using the chapter skip. Not in this case. This is so frickin' annoying I was in a bad mood when the movie finally started. I'm sure there is something I could have done to get to the beginning of the movie without watching previews for Michelle "Wood Block" Rodriguez movies, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Please, movie studios, stop this.

Enough of that whining. The widescreen is 2.35 to 1 and looks great. In some cases, Director Richard Shepard washes out the visuals to show Julian in his drunken loner hell and it works well on the small screen. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds great and blasts out the top notch soundtrack. If it weren't for those frickin' trailers.....ok, ok, no more of that.

The disc has a very nice selection of extras including a brief "making-of" featurette. These are generally just puff pieces, and this one is no exception. There are also 11 deleted or extended scenes, with optional commentary from Shepard. Typically these scenes are cut from the picture because they aren't necessary or slow down the pacing, so they don't add much entertainment value, but it's nice to see a little more of Brosnan as Julian. Finally, there are two full commentaries, one with Shepard alone and one with Shepard, Brosnan and Kinnear. I appreciate the effort of two commentaries when some movies can't even bother to put together one.

This is, overall, a nice disc. The movie is funny with an unexpected performance by a well known actor. It probably won't go down as an all time great screen comedy but the leads deserve some notice and the relatively well stocked single disc makes it a good value.