Sunday, 19 November 2006

The Matador (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 9th July 2006.

The MatadorThe Matador gained some notoriety a few months back, when given a theatrical release, for an iconic scene featuring Piers Brosnan walking through a hotel lobby, wearing nothing but speedo's and cowboy boots. Critics seemed somewhat surprised that Brosnan could put his 007 persona behind him so easily, and perform such an unflattering scene, which is odd when you think that critics should know better than anyone that actors are paid to ACT, and the person we see on screen is NOT the person doing the acting.

One of the facts revealed on the DVD's (in stores this coming Monday) 'cast and director' commentary track, featuring Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Richard Shepard, is that the addition of the boots to the ensemble were Brosnan's own improvisation to divert attention from the speedo's. If one is to believe several similar anecdotes told on the commentary track, it's rather scary how many of the few 'wry smile' comedy moments in the film appear to have come from the actors' own improvisations rather than anything in the 'hilarious' (that's Shepard's quote, NOT mine!) script that caused them to sign up to the project in the first place.

I'd nearly given this one a miss because whilst critics to-a-man talked about Brosnan's performance here being a 'career best', most agreed the film missed the mark. But with Greg Kinnear, always worth watching, playing the secondary lead - that of a businessman who meets Brosnan's burnt out hitman in a hotel bar, and their adventures subsequent to that fatal meeting - and a 'two thumbs up' from Ebert and Roeper's weekly podcast (essential listening for movie fans), I decided to give the DVD a go.

I'm afraid I was disappointed. I've never figured why reviewers insist on using the word 'comedy' for movies like 'About Schmidt' or virtually anything put out in the last 12 months by Bill Murray - these are drama's with a few quirks in them and nothing more. The Matador has some smiles in it, to be sure, but no real jokes as such, other than seeing Brosnan playing against type, and it's primarily a drama about friendship, and what friendship means. I think it was the critic Mark Kermode, who pointed out that those critics raving about this film featuring Brosnan's 'most comedic performance' had failed to also point out that to date it was his ONLY comedic performance, and I'm afraid I'm with Kermode on therefore being disappointed by the lack of laughs in the movie. Being deliberately quirky does NOT automatically equate to being funny!

It's not hard to see why Brosnan and Kinnear were drawn to the project (Brosnan got the project through his film commissioning company and admits on the commentary track that if it had been sent to his agent he'd never have got to read it). The script is very different, and there's a lot here for an actor to get to grips with. But whilst I found myself admiring that fact that the script was different and intelligent, the whole thing just felt too 'worthy but rather dull' to be really enjoyable. Watching it felt more like a 'film homework' exercise than an enjoyable night out experience.

There are some great moments in it, but not enough for me to say "I liked that - I'm glad I saw it". Bear in mind, though, that this is a review coming from a guy who doesn't generally like 'quirky', especially in its American variant, and I'm probably the only person on the planet who thought Being John Malkovich an unfunny, student term project -like mess of a movie!

I should add that I don't hold with those naive reviewers enthusing about 'Brosnan's best performance' either. Different from his usual fare? Yes. But when an actor's accent keeps dramatically changing from one scene to the next (a Boston accent is affected for the most part, but the actor's native Irish accent suddenly jumps to the fore in a few scenes) to the extent one keeps being taken out of the character on screen, that is NOT a career best performance!

So far as the DVD itself is concerned, the transfer is stunning. And what a refreshing change to have a strong colour palette and not some stupid bleached-out green or blue hue throughout the movie. Extra's wise, there is a 'puff piece' featurette that's barely 10 minutes long, some deleted scenes, and two commentaries (one of which was excellent - I didn't get around to listening to the other one), all of which is pretty generous for a first DVD release of a film that's as recent as this one. But overall, this is a rental, and one that should be low down on the list, I'm afraid.

The Matador screencap

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