The Matador

4 stars


21st March 2006

What with all the clinical headshots, fatal stabbings and car-bomb murders, sometimes we lose sight of an important message: hitmen are people too. The first Austin Powers movie made us aware of the day-to-day struggle of the average henchman, and now The Matador has come along to cast light on the life of a contract killer. It's not all guns, girls and glamour, y'know - in fact, quite often it's a lonely business, and as you can imagine, it's not exactly a profession you can chat about freely at cocktail parties. Stepping into the role of the world's loneliest gunman is none other than the official Second Bestest Bond Ever, Pierce Brosnan.

Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a rapidly burning out hired killer who jets around the world rubbing out various nefarious characters at the request of his handler. Preferring to call himself a 'fatality facilitator', Noble is reaching the nadir of his killing career, working solo and accepting 'corporate gigs' to finance his jet-setting lifestyle. However, living a solitary life through the sniper scope is taking its toll on poor Julian, so when he spies unassuming businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in a Mexico City bar, he locks on his tractor beam and forcibly becomes his friend. The pair strike up an unlikely relationship, with Danny fascinated at his newfound buddy's lifestyle and Julian just happy he's found someone to talk to. As Julian's work gets sloppier and sloppier, he turns to Danny and his wife Bean (Hope Davis) for solace.

It couldn't be more obvious that by taking this role, Brosnan was effectively burying Bond for good. "You a spy?" asks Danny, when pressing Noble to divulge information on his work. "Danny," he sighs, "You watch too many movies." Noble is the polar opposite of Bond; the tuxedo is spurned for a Hawaiian shirt, leather boots and a bushy moustache, the smooth talk is replaced with a potty-mouth ("I wouldn't do that for all the teenage twat in Thailand") and although Noble does get his fair share of lady love, I'm pretty sure 007 never had to pay for the pleasure. This is Brosnan neatly folding up his tux, placing his Walther PPK on top and taking a piss on his past. It's not only an absolute joy watching Brosnan break free of his Bond-age restraints, but the fact he does it with such reckless abandon (walking through a hotel lobby in nought but a pair of tight black Speedos and his cowboy boots, for example) gives you a giddy little thrill every time.

It helps that Brosnan's got a great supporting cast surrounding him. Greg Kinnear, who has never exactly been A-list, keeps up admirably and makes a great foil to Pierce's foul-mouthed lech. When Noble turns up unexpectedly on the Wright family doorstep and invades the sanctity of their perfect world, the reaction of both husband and wife is priceless; he's terrified to have a hitman under his roof, while she just wants to see his gun. Hope Davis is luminous as Danny's partner and makes a role that could easily have been throwaway a vital part of the equation - her relationship with her husband is what Julian aspires to, and their shaky relationship with him is what breathes life into the movie. Seeing Julian slowdance with Bean in front of a roaring fire is a genuinely warming moment amidst the thrills and the spills.

Would The Matador have worked quite as well without Brosnan in the main role? Of course not - half the fun is watching the man rip his reputation to shreds, and the effect of seeing an ageing hitman cracking onto a bunch of schoolgirls wouldn't be nearly as effective if the come-ons weren't coming from the mouth of an ex-Bond. Noble is a fantastic character - obnoxious, pathetic yet strangely human, despite his profession - and Brosnan revels in the role, giving him a hearty cackle and a devious glint in his eye that makes him impossible to dislike. With devastating putdowns ("I'd only be interested in your mother if she lost 20 pounds and 30 years") and a fine line in facial hair, Noble is just as iconic as you know who, but without the pomp and pretentiousness.

Sure, The Matador often runs the risk of being a one-man show, but it's a well-crafted and well-balanced picture that knows exactly how to push all your buttons. It's often extremely funny, excellently written and has buckets of style, plus it has that rare quality where you can tell that all involved had an absolute blast making it. It might lack on the action front at times but it more than makes up for it with plenty of gut laughs and some fantastically sculpted characters. Daniel Craig beware: your new gig might seem like the role of a lifetime, but while you're getting beaten up by Russian henchmen and being tortured by all and sundry, your predecessor is soaking up the sun, downing Margaritas and fucking cheap hookers like it's going out of business. Who do you think is having more fun?

More:  Comedy  Hitmen  Violence
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