So I recently saw The Matador, a film for which I’d heard good buzz and was cautiously optimistic about. And I have to say that the buzz and optimism was very much on the mark and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. First, a quick summary of the film for those who might not be aware of this nice little destination film–
Sundance’s official summary: If Pierce Brosnan wearing a black Speedo, cowboy boots, and sunglasses and smoking a cigar wasn’t in itself worth the price of admission, everything else one gets in this rapturously conceived comedy about a lonely hit man would certainly be enough. But the glorious excesses that writer/director Richard Shepard offers are just part of the considerable range of payoffs that make The Matador a delightful mix of genres that simultaneously spoofs the buddy film, killers, and ordinary American life while it plumbs the complexities of the human heart.
“When a traveling salesman, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), accidentally meets up with Julian (Brosnan), “a facilitator of fatalities,” at a Mexico City bar, their subsequent evening together intertwines their lives in an unexpected, but lasting, bond. Each one is facing what could be a life-changing moment, and though they ostensibly have nothing in common, they’re drawn together.
“When the twists and turns of fate are revealed, it becomes clear that Shepard has crafted an enormously entertaining work that takes the hit-man film and spins it on its head while creating a funny and strangely poignant story that is original and genuinely moving. With an outrageously unique performance by Brosnan, and great turns by Kinnear and Hope Davis, The Matador is a film that will stay fixed in your memory long after the curtain has closed.”
The few commercials I’ve seen seem to play The Matador up as a lot more funny than it is. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, but it’s much more charming and sweet than uproarious. When I’d heard Brosnan had gotten a Golden Globe nomination, I figured it was just props for Pierce playing against type as a scruffy, aging and unscrupulous hitman. After seeing the film, I now think the nom was very much warranted. Brosnan’s Julian is a rich and complicated character, and Pierce Brosnan, who’s always been so very Pierce Brosnan in all of his roles (even Bond), is subsumed by the role. For much of the movie I’m looking at the screen and not seeing Brosnan, I’m seeing Julian the soul-weary killer looking for a friend.
Kinnear’s Danny is very much a typical sweet Kinnear character, but Kinnear is just so damn appealing that we don’t mind. Plus, Kinnear does inject some sadness, fear of failure and insecurity that gives this Kinnear character more depth than typical. He’s as good here as he was in As Good As It Gets. Danny’s wife is played magnificently by Hope Davis, who does a lot with her limited screen time, and naturally embodies the inherent warmth, stability and unassuming sexiness of a best friend, lover and wife. She and Kinnear show us a marriage that’s imperfect, flawed, haunted by tragedy and yet beautiful in their camaraderie and love for each other.
This blog being entitled “My Ideal Woman” I’d like to pause my review a moment to talk about Hope Davis. I just love her low-key beauty. Her sexiness is not blatant or in your face, but it’s there nonetheless. I’m always drawn to actresses that don’t have that stereotypical “model-quality” beauty, but instead have their own fresh, unique look.
Of course, this quality lets her very nicely melt into her roles, so when you watch her on screen you’re not aware you’re looking at Hope Davis, you’re just watching her character do what she does. Still, whenever I’m done watching a movie with Hope Davis she lingers in my mind, and I wish she’d be in more films.
Back to the review… Writer and Director Richard Shepherd brilliantly executes the film, chock full of moments where a lesser skilled moviemaker would go too far and degenerate the movie into a silly farce (and not in a good way). Shepherd goes to the edge, flirts with it some, and just when you are certain he’s going to teeter over into disaster pulls you back and spins you around in an unexpected way. Particularly nice is how some scenes are not shown chronologically; characters and plot are illuminated in one way, and then the scenes are shown later, casting new light on characters and plot points. This is not done in a fun and manipulative Tarrantino-esque way, but much more organically and naturally, layering on nuance and texture to situations and relationships we thought we already understood. First impressions (and second and third) don’t last until the credits; the character arcs don’t allow that. We fall in love with the characters over and over again.
It’s always nice to find films that exceed expectations. I fully expect that it’s not a film that everyone will enjoy, but as the credits rolled my mind turned over scenes and my heart turned over a variety of emotions– joy, sadness, envy, surprise, hope. It made me yearn to write stories equally as subtle, bursting with pinpoints of surprisingly beautiful moments.
If you get a chance to see it, I think it likely you will enjoy it too. If you’ve already seen it, let me know what you think.
(before I go, I did find a rare pic of Hope where she is projecting her sexiness a bit more than usual…)