THE MATADOR is an odd film but not a successful one. There are so many factors that should turn me on and yet somehow the finished product left me unengaged. We have Pierce Brosnan, the only Bond who ever compared to Connery, playing against type as a sleazy hitman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He meets an all-american stand-up guy called Danny (Greg Kinnear) in Mexico. He appreciates that Danny is a nice guy who loves his wife, and feels sorry for Danny's bad luck in business and the accidental death of his child. Danny finds Julian, the hitman, fascinating, enigmatic, charismatic, but slightly nerve-wracking. The story charts their friendship, Julian's journey back to some kind of mental health, and Danny's move towards a more fulfilling life.
So far, the story sounds intriguing: unusual and amusing. A sort of buddy movie, crossed with a fish-out-of-water story, crossed with a thriller. But this genre-confusion is ultimately THE MATADOR's downfall. The production designer has tried to give us the heightened-cool of movies like Once Upon a Time in Mexico or Ocean's Twelve; the score is chock-full of iconic hits like A Town Called Malice. But we don't have the visual style or wit of a Paul McGuigan or a Quentin Tarantino movie. The use of the camera is pedestrian.
Occasionally the script breaks into crazy humour - and the hitman does have a lot of crude, off-colour, one-liners - largely similes involving Thai brothels and under-age girls. But these laugh-out-loud moments are relatively sparse. The best moment by far is when Pierce, drunk, dishevelled, almost butt naked, strutts through the hotel lobby in cowboy boots and a pair of Y-fronts. This is a genuine little sliver of Pure Comedy Gold. But the comic tone is under-cut by the serious matter of Pierce/Julian's nervous breakdown. Sadly, writer-director Richard Shepard seems unable to manage the tonal shifts in this movie. Forced to make a choice between which "half" of the movie I would engage in, I opted for the drama. Pierce Brosnan is outstanding in the role. His physical mannerisms, the facial expression, the vocal inflection. It is the stuff of awards, were the film not tagged as a "black comedy" (and an unsuccessful one at that). But with the comedy and thriller facets of the movie crowding out any real in-depth character development I left the theatre feeling unsatisfied. Somewhere in this movie there is a really great psychological thriller OR a great Robert Rodriguez flick. At the moment, we just have a flawed film, which is not quite redeemed by a great performance by Brosnan.
THE MATADOR premiered at Sundance 2005. It is currently on release in the UK and will be released in Germany and Austria on April 20th.