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The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Matador

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE MATADOR!

THE STORY: A depressed assassin (Pierce Brosnan), and an out-of-work businessman (Greg Kinnear) become unlikely friends when they both wind-up on a business trip in Mexico.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, & Hope Davis. Written and directed by Richard Shepard.

THE HISTORY: The mid 2000’s were an interesting period for Pierce Brosnan. Newly replaced as James Bond, he doubled-down on his producing efforts, and turned his attention to the indie world. He made a slew of films that subverted his suave image, notably THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (although it came out during his Bond tenure), THE GREATEST, and SERAPHIM FALLS (another “Best Movie You Never Saw”). However, none of these were as major a departure as THE MATADOR from writer-director Richard Shepard.

The Matador was underappreciated, I feel. The people who put it out there never really got behind it. It’s such a shame, but it does happen. I remember that season the studio had other films they were working harder on promoting and I thought, “You gotta be kidding! You gotta be kidding to not be paying attention to this one!” They just didn’t. But there you go. – Pierce Brosnan Interview – Empire Online 

Rumor has it, Shepard wrote the movie as a spec script, and it was sent to Brosnan’s office as a writing sample for a THOMAS CROWN sequel, but the star dug the script so much he decided to turn it into a movie. The result was a brilliant subversion of the Bond archetype, and the reviews out of TIFF and Sundance were mostly raves. For his trouble, Brosnan wound-up with a Golden Globe nomination, although he was robbed of a much-deserved Oscar nod, possibly due to an underwhelming ad-campaign from The Weinsteins. That said, the DVD cover art would be even worse marketing, making it look like a Bond-clone. That’s something this most assuredly is not. Box office receipts were considered weak, but looking back, a $12 million domestic gross for an indie that never played more than 900 screens isn’t half bad. Many Oscar contenders have grossed less.

WHY IT'S GREAT: I’m a huge Richard Shepard fan. I love his follow-ups, THE HUNTING PARTY and DOM HEMINGWAY (yet another “Best Movie You Never Saw”) as well as his work on “Girls”, but THE MATADOR is his masterpiece. Julian Noble deserves to be seen as one of Brosnan’s iconic parts, with him brilliantly playing the burnt out, dissolute killer who, at the end of the day, really just wants a pal to have a beer with.

The chemistry between Brosnan and Greg Kinnear is superb, with the latter brilliantly underplaying his mild-mannered businessman, making him a sharp contrast to the live-wire Brosnan. Watching the two together is a joy, and they must have liked working together because sometime later the reteamed on another indie, SALVATION BOULEVARD. They’re complimented nicely by Hope Davis as Kinnear’s supportive wife, as well as Philip Baker Hall as Julian’s sympathetic boss (also look for a pre-“Parks & Rec” Adam Scott).

I think if you spoke with Pierce he would tell you it was one of the great experiences of his life getting to play that character. He genuinely had fun, and I think that's one of the things you see in the movie. His relationship with Greg Kinnear in the film doesn't feel manufactured like it does in a lot of these buddy movies. – Richard Sheppard – Money Into Light Interview 

The foul-mouthed dialogue is razor sharp, with Brosnan clearly relishing lines like “I'd only be interested in your mother if she lost 20 pounds and 30 years” (and that’s one of the nicer lines). Somehow, he makes Julian into a lovable rogue. Heck, he even comes-off as a nice guy, even if he’s pretty indiscriminate in who he kills for money. One wonders if in this PC-era the role would make it to the big screen without being chastened.

Add to that a great score by Rolfe Kent, some ace song choices (The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”, and Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”) and a surprisingly sweet-natured conclusion, and you have a slam-bang action comedy that, in my mind, is a classic.

BEST SCENE: If ever there was a moment that Brosnan consciously seemed to be trying to kill-off his 007 image once and for all, it’s the unforgettable scene where the walks through a hotel lobby in a speedo and cowboy boots, while polishing off a beer. It’s bad-ass AF.

SEE IT: THE MATADOR is widely available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming. I have it in no less than three formats, with it being one of the few films ever to hit HD-DVD (a format I stupidly fell for).

PARTING SHOT: THE MATADOR is well-regarded, but I find it crazy that thirteen years later it’s not looked at as one of the better indies of its era. While having the Weinstein connection doesn’t help, this is an underrated gem just aching to be rediscovered. I hope Brosnan and Sheppard re-team someday soon.


Source: JoBlo.com

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