The Matador Review
The privilege of being one of the few actors to be chosen to portray James Bond is not without its disadvantages. For every actor who has taken the mantle and still managed to successfully avoid being burdened by the stigma that that is all the only role they can do (i.e. Sean Connery, who will hopefully come out of retirement to do the upcoming Indiana Jones 4, and potentially Daniel Craig) there have been those that do not fare as well (Roger Moore - my personal favourite, Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby). Pierce Brosnan took up the role at a very late stage in his then lacklustre acting career, but managed to subsequently use his much higher profile to take on several other projects in a bid to steer clear of such inherent typecasting. The most effective of these other roles was probably the John Le Carre novel-based spy thriller The Tailor of Panama, where Brosnan portrayed a much more realistic, almost anti-Bond character, enabling audiences to see a much darker side to the actor. Now, post-Bond, he has set about to put the final nail in the coffin of his previous alter-ego, adopting the role of a professional hitman in the very black comedy/drama The Matador.
Julian Noble kills people for a living, although he describes it as 'facilitating'. Whilst he may not look like either any of the hitmen stereotypes you normally come across in fiction (like the average mafia enforcer or the suit-wearing professional variety - embodied by the Hitman videogame series, soon to be made into a Vin Diesel movie), he is nevertheless both good what he does and consummately professional about it. In fact, he positively takes pleasure out of his job. He also takes pleasure in racking up high numbers of sexual conquests, but unfortunately his lack of subsequent emotional satisfaction often results in him being quite bored - even painting his toe-nails with their polish when he's got nothing better to do. He is a dirty, unshaved, middle-aged, foul-mouthed, cockney hitman, but his brutal honesty and frank bluntness make him quite a refreshing lead character.
After his handler reminds him that it is his birthday, he finds himself bored, fed up and lonely, with no friends to speak to, just work contacts in his phone book. Having sated his rampant sexual appetite, he finds himself alone in a bar with Danny, a struggling salesman who's away from home trying to make a successful pitch. Striking up a rather awkward conversation with Danny, Julian realises that he has no idea how to interact with individuals expect to kill or screw them. Yet he so desperately wants to have a friend that he ends up following Danny around, appearing from out of nowhere to harass him and try and make a friend out of him. And so begins a rather odd tale of a middle-aged hitman undergoing some kind of mid-life crisis and a middle-aged salesman trying to save his career and his marriage, and the strange way in which they both become friends.
Pierce Brosnan is superb in the role of Julian Noble, a most unpleasant character on the face of things, but one who you grow to love and postitively root for as the movie proceeds. Why? Well, in the same way that Michael Caine made Alfie a lovable rogue, Brosnan's offbeat wit and honesty really makes his character much more unusual than your average movie hitman. Greg Kinnear is a bit of a non-entity for me. He's played this kind of part in too many movies now and, sure he suits it, but he doesn't have to work particularly hard in the role. It does not help that here he is totally overshadowed by Brosnan.
The Matador is not an action movie, not even a thriller, but more of a candid, r-rated variation on the excellent John Cusack hitman comedy Grosse Point Blank. I can easily see how some people might just not get this movie - might not understand it, find interest in it and might not like it at all. Others will think the quirky humour and amusing-but-dramatic antics are refreshing and innovative for a cross-genre movie like this. Personally I found it quite funny and quite engaging and relished the lack of Hollywood clichés, Hollywood over-sentimentality and Hollywood sugar-coating. That said, it did not leave me particularly satisfied at the end, as the secret that is revealed during the closing real is original but also something of an anticlimax. All in all, this is a movie most Brosnan fans should check out, but otherwise it's probably worth a rental first to see whether you either love it or hate it.