9.17.2008

The Matador




Pierce Brosnan in The Matador (dir. Richard Shepard, 2005).

Neither winning performances by Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear nor some clever plotting can compensate for the lazy, feel-good moral philosophy (or lack thereof) at the heart of this movie. There are two ways a darkish crime comedy of this sort can go: toward unblinking, deterministic irony (the route taken, for example, by the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading), or toward an escapist sentiment of heroic absolution (I don't mean either "escapist" or "sentiment" in a derogatory sense; there are plenty of works that pull this off very well). To try to combine both is to court disaster, and that's where The Matador goes wrong.

There's nothing unusual about likeable characters who do irredeemably bad things, such as killing people for money, which is what Pierce Brosnan does. His dissolute hit man Julian Noble is a real kick--probably the best performance I've ever seen from him. Noble is funny and charismatic, if a little too kinkily seedy to be considered exactly "charming." Nor is there anything unusual about the usually decent character whose decency gives way to opportunity in a time of crisis. At a crucial moment, however, the film pulls its punches and lets its characters off the ethical hook, in one case by working a change on what we think we know, and in the other by simply sweeping stuff under the rug. Sloppy on both counts.

3 comments:

Nicoloff said...

I have long wanted that screen shot blown up and framed.

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

You say:
I don't mean either "escapist" or "sentiment" in a derogatory sense; there are plenty of works that pull this off very well

e.g.?

K. Silem Mohammad said...

Ed, I just mean the standard model of Hollywood action/romance/comedy crowdpleaser, of which there are countless examples. One that has some surface similarities to The Matador is The Whole Nine Yards, with Amanda Peet, Bruce Willis, and Matthew Perry: a perfectly enjoyable ball of nonsense (unlike its abominably unwatchable sequel, The Whole Ten Yards).