The Theory of Chaos

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - The Matador

Originally published 2/23/06
Full review behind the jump

The Matador

: Richard Shepard
: Richard Shepard
: Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair, Bryan Furst, Sean Furst
: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall, Dylan Baker

“Delight” is the only word that can describe my reaction when Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) shows up on the quiet suburban doorstep of Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear). And it’s not just because I was ready to see their unusual and entertaining bond perpetuated, it’s because of something rare which happens. You see, Danny is a straight-arrow businessman, and Julian’s a freelance assassin. They know each other from a wild weekend down in Mexico, where some things happen that you wouldn’t always tell the missus about. And when Julian comes through the front door, Danny’s kind and patient wife Bean (Hope Davis)
knows who he is and what he does.

Can you see what I’m getting at? Maybe you have to imagine the tiresome gymnastics which would have ensued in any other movie – where Danny would have sputtered and fretted and hidden the truth, and the movie would grind to a halt in a series of embarrassing falsehoods and convolutions about who Julian is and why he’s acting like Danny’s best mate. But Richard Shepard’s
The Matador presents us a marriage built on real trust and honesty, and so skips that pitfall; in fact, skips around so many of the usual traps its rather precious narrative might have fallen into – and with confidence and frisky humor asks us to accept one simple premise: that Danny and Julian met in a bar, and liked each other. Here is a movie more interested in tone, nuance and character than subordinating everything to another heartless exercise in plot, and it’s a pleasure to witness.

Set aside his grisly profession and you might recognize someone you know in Julian – he’s a friend most everyone makes at some point in their lives. The one who drinks too much, makes inappropriate remarks and even more inappropriate propositions, because he is drunk; and then, late in the night when he’s even more drunk, feels very very sorry about what he did earlier and wants badly to tell you about it, even if you’re trying to sleep. His need for any real contact is palpable, painful – he’s a shambles of a human being who’s lived out of hotel rooms for over 20 years. He kills someone, he gets paid, he drinks, he screws, and he moves to the next town. To him, a man like Danny, with a wife and a tasteful house and an SUV, is Superman.

But for a shambles he’s a hell of a good time – funny, mischievous, full of entertaining stories. Sooner or later everything reminds him of Asian hookers. Both he and Danny are in Mexico City on “business”, and both are sipping margaritas in a hotel bar late one night, and the audacity of Shepard’s work creating these characters is to convince us that each needs something the other can provide, and so no matter how challenging it is for them to find common ground in their lives, neither can quite let go of their contact with the other.

Danny doesn’t believe at first that Julian really kills for a living. Then, at a crowded bullfight, Julian walks him through exactly how he’d snuff out a randomly-chosen person, and in the midst of Danny’s enjoyment of it all it stops seeming so preposterous. It does not end up how you’d expect, but then, little in this movie does. You keep expecting it to be about a conflict, some terrible deadline or moral conundrum. But instead, for much of its length, it’s cheerily content to be about the possibilities of a heartland American couple accepting someone like Julian as a human being. Danny even describes him to Bean as “nice…you know…for a hitman.

Bean is just as friendly, and fascinated, and if you think you can see where it would go to have an attractive woman under a roof with Greg Kinnear and Pierce Brosnan, you’ll again be disappointed. This is a solid marriage, I’d near say an inspiring one, that has weathered fourteen years of tragedy and struggle yet still can give over to a naughty mood in the laundry room. How often has a filmmaker written simply that – two people who don’t give in to easy jealousy or misunderstanding, who have just made it work together?

Of course, their success is the greater highlight to Julian’s failure – his functionality is so reduced that he’s beginning to botch jobs. And his is not a forgiving profession for those past their prime. Now that he’s left behind the supremely confident James Bond role, that Brosnan is free to take on a character so humbled, so hilariously corrupted and ruined, is a treat for audiences and a tribute to the adaptability of his screen charisma. Kinnear, too, finds the right notes in the enriched straight man role, and Hope Davis carries on her tradition of making the charming most out of every second on camera. She unerringly finds the precise moment to delight us with another dimension to Bean, the high school sweetheart who believes in her man. She’s good enough that when the two-man show becomes two-men-and-a-woman, not a drop of chemistry is lost.

If it seems like I give too much away, I’m sorry – I’ve tried for the most part to reveal to you what the movie is not. Those less-traveled roads it does take I hope you will discover and delight in as I did. The Matador is a compact picture, exact in its intentions yet breezy and fun in delivery. It blends comedy and violence and pathos, and moments of naked honesty, and makes a sweet cocktail of it. “Margaritas always taste better in Mexico” opens Julian in that fateful bar. Danny agrees, and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling Julian’s follow-up.


Post a Comment

<< Home