Thursday Night Movie Club
The Matador
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Release Date: January 6, 2006

Director: Richard Shepard
Pierce Brosnan
Greg Kinnear
Hope Davis
Philip Baker Hall
William Raymond
Julian Noble
Danny Wright
Carolyn 'Bean' Wright
Mr. Randy
Mr. Stick
The Matador movie poster The Matador movie poster The Matador movie poster
Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble in The MatadorePierce Brosnan, rather unceremoniously released from his role as James Bond, gets a chance to add a slice of finality to that role in The Matador. He nails the opportunity. I'm going on record early to say Brosnan will get an Academy Award nomination for this role.

Julian Noble, appropriate name along with the title of the movie, is an aging hit man or, as he likes to be politically correct, a "facilitator of fatalities". Brosnan's predecessor as Bond, Timothy Dalton, once referred to his job as a "problem eliminator". The subtle sarcasm was probably lost on the writers, but it gave me a good laugh. This simple statement is the heart and soul of the movie.

Julian is so focused on his job that he forgets the "little" details of his life, like his birthday. To be brutally frank, Julian has no life except as a hired assassin. His attempts at a normal life, like booze and women, bring him right back to who he is, cold and alone.

Completing his assignment in Mexico, he decides to celebrate his birthday by calling acquaintances from his phone book. None of the people on his list even remember Julian. With nothing better to do, he gets drunk and beds women to no avail. Julian stumbles into a hotel bar, coincidentally the same bar where he previously received his instructions in a wonderfully played out scene. There he meets Danny Wright, also in Mexico to make a bid for his fledgling company. Danny has his own problems, both personal and professional. He seriously needs to close this deal.

Both men are stuck in Mexico for a few days. They engage in the ages-old-art of conversation: drinking too many margaritas and telling things to a stranger that they would not normally divulge. Julian promptly insults Danny and the two get off to a rocky start. In apology, Julian begins to tell Danny a bit of the truth about himself. He is the complete opposite of Danny. So when Danny makes advances at friendly conversation, Julian must take the opposite approach and be rude.

Photo of Greg Kinnear as Danny Wright and Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble in The MatadoreWith nothing better to do and plenty of time to "kill", Danny accepts Julian's offer to spend a pleasant afternoon at the bullfights. It is here that the parallels between the movie's title and Julian's name are explained. Julian has respect for the very best matadors who kill the bulls, quickly, cleanly and respectfully. Danny makes the mistake of needling Julian too far in Julian's occupation. The movie takes an interesting turn here as it becomes quiet obvious that there is no way to tell the difference between Julian's lies and the truth.

What follows is both humorous and intriguing. Danny makes another mistake by daring Julian to make a "hit". Julian leaps at the challenge and the two begin to plot out an assassination. Julian points out all of the preparatory steps. Danny follows along. Thanks to Julian's questions, Danny begins to take the "game" seriously and starts to think like an assassin. All is fun and games until Julian pulls out a pocket knife for the final cu de tat. Danny is terrified when the realization of Julian's profession hits too close to the bone. The growing friendship dissolves. Or does it?

Jump ahead a few months and things are decidedly different. Danny's business deal in Mexico is a success. Julian, however, is falling apart. He has lost his killer's edge. Instead of seeing his target, his eyes get blurry. He can't focus on the job. Suddenly, the hunter becomes the hunted. With no where to go, Julian turns to the only friend he knows, Danny.

Photo of Greg Kinnear as Danny Wright and Hope Davis as Carolyn WrightBut as successful as Danny has become, his relationship with wife, Bean, has been a struggle since the accidental death of their son. Their dreams of what their son would be like if he were still alive are interrupted by a knock on the door. Julian pays his old friend an unscheduled visit. The ensuing scene is funny, tender and intriguing. Once again, it becomes very difficult to tell when Julian is lying. Hope Davis really shines here as Bean's fascination of having an actual hit man in her nice suburban Denver home grips her. Davis' line, "fuckety fuck" alone, is worth the price of admission. The sequence begins to explain the friendship between Julian and Danny as well as what really happened in Mexico. With a "facilitator of fatalities" sitting next to him, how did Danny get his contract in Mexico?

Brosnan gets the role of a lifetime to play against his previous type-casting roles of Remington Steele and James Bond. He gets Julian perfect, a man who must remain private and secretive for business reasons who suddenly realizes he lives an empty life. In the concluding shot, we hope that Julian is free and able to discover who his is and maybe have some fun.

Greg Kinnear is wonderful as a normal person. Danny is easily understandable for the rest of us. He is us. What would any of us do when faced with the crisis of a lifetime and to meet such an obvious solution to our problems? Do we do what is easy or what is right?

Director Richard Shepard does nothing fancy with camera angles or editing. What he does is block every scene so that the actors can bring out the varying aspects of the movie: humor, suspense and a fascination with the characters and their situations. One would have to be dead to not notice the similarity with the fake assassination in Mexico at the bullring and the real thing later at a horse race. The movie's resolving scene is touching and revealing. There is a lot to be said about the "lively art of conversation". The Matador "looks" like a simple move, it is much more complex than that, as is life itself.