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"The Matador"

Directed by Richard Shepard.
Written by Richard Shepard.
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis and Philip Baker Hall.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  2/4/06

Folks--

Giving new life to a tired genre, "The Matador" really is invigorating, thanks to solid performances from the film's three leads and a beautiful production shot mainly in Mexico City.

You thought hitman movies had died, eh?  Well, "The Matador"--the funniest hitman flick I can think of since "Grosse Pointe Blank" back in 1997--stars Pierce Brosnan as the neo-classic just-about-to-retire hitman with all the bad habits:  he loves hookers, he drinks cocktails for breakfast, he treats kids like shit and he works best alone.  This hitman, named Julian, even has the classic Hong Kong cinema moment where his handler (Philip Baker Hall) has to remind him when his birthday is, because he's so deep into his work and dirty lifestyle.  Everything about the setup for "The Matador" is ridden with clichés...but, it works because as we follow Julian through a hit he must make in Mexico City, we get to meet Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), an honest-to-goodness good guy, an account rep trying to make his way in the world, a guy that married his high school sweetheart (Hope Davis) 14 years ago.  Danny and Julian happen to be staying at the same hotel, meet at the hotel's bar one morning...and, it's the friendship between these two that make "The Matador" something special.

The unique thing about this flick for me was the lack of any real violence; there are only a couple of moments where we approach Julian's hits from afar, but writer/director Richard Shepard cuts away before we see anything too bad.  Even in "Grosse Pointe Blank", there are a couple of action scenes, but here in "The Matador" Julian's profession is mostly used to base Danny's interest in learning more about Julian, but once they cover this, their main relationship is based around Danny's home life, Julian's lack of one and the twosome's interest in clearing Julian's name once a contract is put out on his life.  This leaves us mostly with watching Brosnan be a complete asshole--which is hilarious in and of itself, comparing this character to his Bond and Remington Steele moments--and watching Kinnear be the lovable nerd that makes his character so appealing to Julian.

Save for the constant profanity, "The Matador" is a pretty safe, enjoyable ride at the theater.  As mentioned, the performances are great; maybe better than this is the beautiful cinematography by David Tattersall, who served as the DP on a number of action films and (strangely) special effects-laden flicks, like the "Star Wars" prequels.  His work here with natural light and smooth interiors is just cool; it also helps that Mexico City (at least, the locations in this film) is beautiful to look at, most notably the hotel where the guys meet and some exteriors where a bullfight is staged mid-film.  Overall, it's just a good-looking production, which is aided by a equally-strong score.

As good as "The Matador" is, I didn't love the ending (specifically, how Julian attempts to clear his name) and some characters, such as the handler's boss (Dylan Baker), show up for so little time that I actually wanted a little more in terms of supporting players.  Also, it didn't make much sense to me that once Julian blows a couple of hits in a row, the higher-ups didn't send more people after him; I never really felt like Julian was on the run, since he wasn't doing that much that was evident to stay in hiding.

But, those are minor points--overall, this was some good stuff.  Since it landed on the top 10 list in terms of box office last week, hopefully it will stick around for a bit longer.  Check it out! 

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09