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film review ***: ...The Matador... a Killer Comedy

Pierce Brosnan Shakes Things Up in Hit Man Farce

By Yong-yi Zhu

The Matador

Written and Directed by Richard Shepard

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis

Rated R

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Just as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” brought cool to the hit men movie genre, “The Matador” brings humor. You will laugh from start to finish at its brash, over-the-top nature. The premise of the story is crazy: a lonely, oft-drunken hit man named Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) and upstanding salesman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) form an unlikely friendship.

At the beginning of the film, Wright travels to Mexico City to pitch a sales deal. He has struggled for years to be successful, but has yet to find any sort of relief. Wright has experienced many misfortunes, including his son’s death and the destruction of his kitchen by a tree, and he is afraid another failure will cause him to lose not only his self-esteem, but also his wife Bean (Hope Davis).

Around the same time, hit man Noble is also in Mexico City; a contract killer for big corporations, he assassinates executives when they get in the way of negotiations. It happens to be Noble’s birthday, but he has no friends to call and nobody with whom to celebrate the occasion. Being a hit man doesn’t allow for many strong or long-lasting relationships, so Noble’s interests lie primarily in getting soused and laid.

Wright and Noble meet while drunk and gradually hit it off. When Noble tells Wright about his profession, somehow Wright is takes interest instead of being scared away, and the friendship begins to develop.

Six months later, Noble, who has somehow lost his ability to kill, comes back to Wright for help with carrying out the last job of his career. Will Wright help him? Will their friendship end? The only thing that’s certain is a hilarious conclusion.

Brosnan is great as the ridiculous killer; a far cry from the suave James Bond we’re accustomed to: he is instead loose, flabby and drunk. He is able to subtly give us the impression that he is both a trained assassin and, later the man who has lost his ability to kill. Kinnear plays the complete opposite of Brosnan, an honest man with too much conscience. Kinnear’s role is more straightforward than Brosnan’s, but he fills it well. After all, he was director Richard Shepard’s first choice.

Shepard insists on displaying gigantic captions that detail every setting in the film, such that you are very aware when the characters are in Denver because enormous letters on the screen tell you so. At first I was somewhat troubled by these captions, simply because they disrupt the flow of the film. As the movie continued, however, I came to see humor in its lighthearted wildness. These captions serve as a small example of how ridiculous Shepard wants to make the movie. Besides, he shot the entire film in Mexico City, so he has to convince the viewer somehow that the characters are in fact in Denver, Budapest, Manila, or anywhere else.

The only weak aspect of the movie is its ending, which is too sentimental and therefore out of step with the rest. In fact, any scene that tries to be dramatic simply does not work: this is a farcical film, and any emotional character development is truly lost to the audience. Even with that hiccup, the movie still shines; if for nothing else, go for the sight of Brosnan in a hotel with nothing on except his underwear and boots.