Matador, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers walks into a Mexican bar with an assassin and a salesman...
Pierce Brosnan is Julian Noble, a tired hit man working his way to retirement. Greg Kinnear is Danny Wright, a salesman on his last leg, losing faith in himself and desperately holding onto a loving relationship with his High School sweetheart. When these two men meet in a Mexico City hotel bar, an unlikely friendship is forged, due mostly to Julian's overwhelming loneliness which causes him to practically stalk Danny. When Julian happens back into Danny's life six months after their initial meeting, the now successful family man has to make some hard choices—whether to continue his normal life, or to help the friend he barely knows.
I've been doing this DVD reviewing gig for almost two years now. Before that I watched a lot of movies on my own, but always trusted my reading of trailers and taste to lead me away from sub par features, meaning I simply didn't watch a movie if it didn't interest me. Even when I began reviewing discs for DVDActive, I tended to pick titles that sounded intriguing. Lately I've started receiving screeners for discs I did not ask for, nor was I at all interested in viewing in the first place. Usually my hunches are correct, but sometimes I'm way off. This might be the first time that I was this far off.
I remember thinking, "do we really need another film about hit men and their problems?". No, we really don't, the bases have been covered over the past hundred years. What could Pierce Brosnan and some writer/director I've never heard of possible have to add to this tired formula? Apparently they had quite a bit. I've seen burned-out hit men, but never hit men this lonely, this obnoxiously dependant on human contact. It takes a special character and a special actor to make such an equally cool and pathetic character as Julian Nobel (ironic last name aside of course).
The last thing I thought I needed, other than another hit man story, was another sexy-cool performance from Brosnan. I honestly feel that detachment from the frankly awful Bond franchise was the best thing that could've happened to the aging, once promising actor, but this role didn't sound like the career rejuvenator all the critics claimed it was. It sounded like a lesser James Bond. Again, I was wrong. Director Richard Shepard has ingeniously cast Brosnan against type, knowing that the movie-going public still associates the actor with 007, knowing that their misconceptions will actually improve the performance. Shocking though it may be, the critical hype surrounding this role is 100% accurate; this is Brosnan at his finest.
Speaking of stuff I didn't need, I really didn't need another light-hearted, faux-independent screwball comedy. Aren't we all tired of this one note joke movies yet? I certainly thought I was, but continuing this epic streak, I was wrong. I haven't laughed this much at a film that was supposed to be funny in quite some time. The Matador isn't too light, but never seeps into the dark places world-weary audiences may assume it will, and though I've always been a fan of darker stories, I was very happy this one never changed its direction. It maintains pathos without ever getting too heavy, and makes one feel good without ever devolving into total sap.
Brosnan is good, but another quirky turn from Greg Kinnear, please, I needed that like a hole in the head. But what's this, Kinnear is also fantastic? Oh come on, I'm never this wrong. Apparently I am. Kinnear more than holds his own against Brosnan as the film's morally centred straight man, as is Hope Davis as Danny's loving and adorable wife. I ended up loving these characters in spite of myself, and though somewhat plot-heavy, this taught little film is all about the performances and characters.
And any film with its climax taking place in my home town of Tucson, AZ can't be all bad, right?
The Matador looks spectacular. I may have forgotten to mention how beautifully shot this flick is. Made in Mexico City, one of the most oddly beautiful and colourful cities on earth, this DVD is a feast for the eyes. David Tattersall, cinematographer for the Star Wars prequels has outdone himself, crafting a surreal but believable environment. The disc reproduces these colours nearly perfectly, without any major edge enhancement. If forced to look for inadequacies in this transfer I'd point to a few of the night time sequences, which often aren't black enough and can contain some low level noise. However, when accompanied by bright reds and yellows, the black levels are spot on.
It takes a special ear to select catalogue music for a film successfully. The all time champion of this art is, of course, Martin Scorsese, though protégés Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson can all hold their own in the area. Recently I reviewed Transamerica for the Weinstein Company, and mentioned that the majority of the music selections seemed forced. Sometimes it works to choose against type. For the most part Richard Shepard has selected successfully here, especially the use of 'Heat of the Moment', an awful song made good because of its context in the scene. Rob Zombie recently did the same thing with Lynard Skynard's 'Free Bird', a song I thought I'd never want to hear again until I saw the film.
The DVD’s 5.1 Dolby Digital track is solid. For the majority of the film it is subtle and the surround effects well structured. Music is well balanced and clear, but occasionally dialogue is too quiet. I'd be alright with cranking up the volume a bit to hear the stilted dialogue, but the occasional bursts of sound, such as thunder, car bombs, and bull fight crowd cheers are far too loud in comparison. Surprisingly, the few meaty sound effects in the film are some of the most realistic and jarring I've heard since Saving Private Ryan.
Genius Products still hasn't release an incendiary DVD collection, though perhaps the Weinstein’s are holding onto Kill Bill with grand plans (we can hope, right), and The Matador is no exception. The meat and potatoes of the disc are its thirty minutes of deleted scenes. Each scene comes with optional writer/director commentary, and Shepard is good and lucid about why scenes were deleted and how their deletion helped the film. I'd have to agree with his choices in every case, as most of these scenes are moot and would've hurt the film's brisk runtime.
After the deleted scenes one may be inclined to check out the commentaries. Shepard's solo commentary is well planned, and the writer/director leaves little silent space on the track. Unfortunately, though informative, I found the track pretty dry, and in the end just not entertaining. Shepard seems like a fun enough guy, but the track was real hard going for me. I recommend cutting straight to the actor/director commentary featuring the livelier Brosnan and Kinnear. Sometimes a group effort commentary is better for pure entertainment value.
The remaining features are of the fluffy variety. ‘Making The Matador’ is really short, and obviously made as a EPK rather than an in depth study of the film. The radio discussion with Shepard was taken from public radio, and though more informative than the featurette, listening to a radio broadcast on DVD is about as much fun as it sounds, as in not. Things are wrapped up with some TV spots and trailers, including trailers to pretty much every single Genius Products release to date. Hey guys, why'd you choose to send me Bridezillas but not Mrs. Henderson Presents?
The Matador is a film I had absolutely no interest in enjoying. The only reason I watched it instead of the many other screeners flooding my mailbox as of late was because it was the shortest in running length. I'm not much of a Brosnan or Kinnear fan, and have had my fill of contract killer movies, not to mention quirky, pseudo-independent comedies. Despite all of this I adored this film. Take that for what it's worth, and stay tuned for the credits to catch one of my all time favourite songs, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' Matador, which was the song I sung to myself every time I heard the film's title before its release. Oh, and ignore the recent ads for the DVD that sell it like an action film, it is not.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 4th July 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Actor Commentary, Eleven Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary, 'Making The Matador', 'The Business and the Treatment' Radio Program, Trailer and TV Spot
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Shepard
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Arlin Miller, Azucena Medina, Jonah Meyerson, Wiveca Bonerais.
Length: 97 minutes
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