The Matador & Lucky Number Slevin
There is life after Bond. Pierce Brosnan may have been retired from 007, but he’s retained his license to kill in The Matador, a comedy about a burnt out hitman (he prefers ‘facilitator of fatalities’) who befriends a down on his luck businessman (Greg Kinnear) in Mexico City.
Julian Noble (Brosnan) is very good at what he does. But he’s also getting old and coming to the unpleasant realisation he doesn’t have a friend in the world. Which is how he comes to take Danny into his confidence one afternoon at the bullfight. Naturally Danny doesn’t believe him. But an impromptu masterclass in an assassin’s sang froid and savoir faire dispels his doubts, and though Danny isn’t ready to help him dispatch a job just yet, the two men do end up bonding, if you’ll pardon the expression. Even so, it’s a shock to Danny to find Julian on his doorstep late one night six months later.…
Brosnan has guyed his Bond image before, in John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama. But that lark was just a dress rehearsal for this outing – he’s really letting his hair down here. Julian may be a highly paid professional, but he’s also an uncouth yob with a thing for teenage girls; he’s constantly smashed, and talks a blue streak (Brosnan lets us hear snatches of the wide boy he must once have been).
He’s also unmistakably coded as bisexual. The first time we see him he’s rifling through a pick-up’s purse and stealing her nail polish. ‘Margaritas always taste better in Mexico,’ he tells Danny. ‘Margaritas and cock.’ Smile. ‘Just fucking with ya.’ (He may be kidding, but a minute later he’s patting Danny on the thigh.) An ostentatious six-month time jump at the end of the first act leaves Julian hammering on Danny’s hotel room door, and we’re left wondering just what it was that passed between them that night.
Ironically, Julian’s sexual proclivities are more threatening than his line of work, and Brosnan’s zealous amorality gives this closeted odd coupling comedy the gusto it needs. Apologising for having attempted to rope Danny into a ‘facilitation’, Julian says ‘I was just trying to show you a good time.’
‘Oh, it’s a good time, killing someone?’ demands his straight friend.
‘Can be,’ says Julian, with just the right inflection to let us know he really means it.
Writer-director Richard Shepard keeps things light and breezy, with big slabs of primary colour and a couple of brazen golden oldie interludes. Perhaps because it dissipates the sexual tensions which precede it, the third act is the least successful and the most conventional – it doesn’t help that it hinges on a sneakily placed flashback, nor that the film’s morality requires a whacking dose of double think… nevertheless, for two thirds of its running time The Matador hits the bull’s eye.
Which is four fifths more than can be said for the wretchedly-titled Lucky Number Slevin. Yet another film about a hitman, this has Josh Hartnett showing up at a friend’s apartment only to be whisked away in nothing but a purple towel and bath slippers to face up to thousands of dollars of gambling debts he knows nothing about. Twice. The local Mr Big, aka ‘The Boss’ (Morgan Freeman) wants him to clear his credit by wiping out his ex-partner, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), to whom Josh’s missing pal is also deeply indebted. In fact I over-simplify, but the shenanigans in this overly-determined neo-noir parlour game really aren’t worth straightening out.
Written in parodic tough guy parlance by Jason Smilovic and directed with ersatz ‘style’ by Paul McGuigan (Gangster Number One), this is obviously shooting for Tarantino gangsta cool – see also Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Snatch, and Revolver for an object lesson in diminishing returns. It’s even got Bruce Willis in it. But I don’t recall watching a Tarantino movie and finding myself wondering what the wallpaper was going to look like in the next scene. Slevin shoots from the hip, but it’s firing damp squibs.
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