February 2, 2006

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FILM: The Matador (R)

by Amy Diaz

Pierce Brosnan does sleaze with the class and charm that only a former James Bond can muster and proves it again with this role as a hit man at the end of his career in The Matador.

There’s just something about his face – handsome but worn – his suspiciously over-brown tan, his twinkly eyes that look sad at the corners and his too-loud laugh. It’s a wonderful look of beauty and decadence on the way down. Brosnan has made a highly entertaining post-007 string of movies with this persona (the best of which is perhaps The Tailor of Panama).

In The Matador, his Julian is a bit sadder and more pathetic than most variations of this aging bounder. Julian is a hit man who is lonely, tired and about to experience some career- (and life-) threatening panic attacks. In Mexico City, Julian finds himself alone on his birthday and heads down to the bar be lonely around people. He finds Danny (Greg Kinnear) sitting at the bar, tentatively excited by a pitch he gave that might get him back on financial track. They make awkward small talk and, over the next few days, form a weird friendship based on Danny’s fascination with Julian’s dangerous hit man life and Julian’s fascination with Danny’s normal-guy life, which Danny considers to be an unlucky one (there was a layoff, the death of a child and, just before his Mexico City trip, a tree that fell through his kitchen). Danny doesn’t entirely believe that Julian is what he says he is and Julian seems amused and a bit unbelieving of Danny’s domestic happiness, which includes his marriage to Bean (Hope Davis). Their friendship ends abruptly when Julian asks Danny to help him with a job and Danny refuses.

Six months later, Julian is being chased by his former employers due to his inability to kill well anymore. He comes to Danny looking for friendship and, well, help with a job. But this job, Julian tells Danny, will save his life and allow him to retire to happiness on a Greek isle.

Julian plays Danny and his decency and his normalcy with the finesse of a matador playing a bull. He prevails on Danny to help him kill someone first as a way to find some adventure and then as a service to their friendship. Or is Danny the matador and the unpredictable, slightly crazy Julian the bull? When Julian comes to Danny’s suburban home, Bean seems both a bit scared and surprisingly excited by his presence. He’s a dangerous killer, she says with some barely muffled delight. The bond between these two men is odd, both tenuous and surprisingly tight. They see in each other hints of what a different life looks like (Danny clearly envies some of Julian’s pose; he grows the same 1970s porn star/1970s TV cop mustache) and try to absorb some of those characteristics (Julian seems to like the idea of having people have genuine emotion for him, not just an interest in his money or killing abilities). The real shocker in the movie is not the collision of suburbia and international killers-for-hire but the fact that these two worlds can collide in the form of a meeting between sad men and not have one or the other seem cartoony or weak.

Skewed in its outlook, dark but oddly sweet The Matador is unexpected in how appealing it and its sad-sack character are.

A-

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