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  The Matador

Richard Shepard, USA, 2005

Rating: 4.0


Posted: January 30, 2006

So Pierce Brosnan is winning rave reviews for his role in The Matador, in which he plays a middle-aged, socially maladjusted hit man named Julian Noble, whose career track has led him to the platform with a ticket to the Crazy Train in his hand. He's rude, callous and totally inappropriate, and on top of that, he's starting to suffer from blackouts and panic attacks -- two traits that don't look good on a professional killer's resume. The Matador is a funny flick, and I guess Brosnan shows he can do more than look like a suave horn dog mannequin, although I wish he hadn't played the role so understated.

See, not to brag or anything, but I've met some actual real-deal killers in my time, and believe me when I tell you that these dudes are more messed up than Anna Nicole Smith and Courtney Love put together. So Julian likes to ogle underage girls, frequents seedy dens of iniquity and thinks nothing of walking through a hotel lobby wearing only form-fitting swim trunks and boots? So what? That's my cousin Vito to a "T." I've hung out with some dudes who like to wear women's undergarments and loop Air Supply on their iPods when they're on the job. These hombres make Julian look like Tom "Fright Wig" Cruise in Collateral.

Back to the movie: Julian's feeling the strain of having to whack people for a living, and on a business trip to Mexico City, he has a chance encounter with a guy named Danny Wright in a hotel bar. Danny's a likeable loser in town to close a business deal that could save what's left of his fragile self-esteem. The guy's kid died a few years ago, he got laid off from his job, and a tree just crashed into his house as he was attempting to score a quickie from his pretty wife. Danny could easily be too pathetic, but Greg Kinnear gives him just the right amount of Everyman, uh, relatability. (Is that a word?)

These two unlikely pals get off to a shaky start, despite the fact that they're both at a crossroads and each just a banana peel away from slipping into a full-on midlife crisis. But soon they're bonding at a bullfight, where the metaphor of the title gets hammered home: People love watching a matador dispatch a bull swiftly and cleanly. But if he's nervous and messy? Not so much. Same with Julian's employers, who aren't happy that he recently botched an important job.

Anyway, Julian, who doesn't have any friends, lets Danny in on what he does for a living, which both repels Danny and oddly excites him. So much so that six months later, back home in Denver, Danny's sporting a cheesy moustache similar to Julian's, when Julian himself comes knocking on his door in the middle of the night, needing a favor and ominously intoning that Danny owes him one. Huh? He does? Yeah, well, turns out there's more that happened in Mexico City than we get let in on at first. So Danny has to decide whether to help his buddy out of a jam, even at the cost of his moral compass.

Brosnan and Kinnear give superb performances, as does some chick named Hope Davis as Danny's wife, who for some ungodly reason is named Bean. (Julian, as you'd expect, kind of comes on to her, in a harmless kind of way, and you can't blame him.) When Julian breaks down and suffers a panic attack during a crucial moment, you can feel tear ducts starting to well up throughout the theater. Brosnan doesn't oversell the scene or ham it up. He's not obviously pulling an I Am Sam moment here in hopes of a trophy, which is exactly why he should eventually get one.

Director Richard Shepard's script doesn't hit you over the head, although parts of it are telegraphed pretty loudly. (Julian and Danny's surnames -- are they ironic, or do they come to match their characters' actions in the end?) For the most part, The Matador hits you quick and clean. Just like a bullfighter should, you know what I'm sayin'?

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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