Friday, July 07, 2006

'e is an ex-Bond

If Pierce Brosnan is hell-bent on nailing the coffin lid shut on James Bond, he took giant leaps in the right direction with Julian Noble, the character he plays in The Matador.

Noteworthy is how many traits 007 shares with Noble – a hard drinking, bed hopping, globetrotting hitman or, as Julian refers to himself, a “facilitator”. He even takes orders from a low-rent version of M, played here with a sort of paternal wisdom by Philip Baker Hall. But that’s where the similarities end. He’s out of shape, let his hair go gray and has surrendered his kempt visage to whiskers and a bad moustache. Even James’ sly wit has been replaced by Julian’s terrible dick & pussy jokes. Julian Noble might just be where Bond ends up when Her Majesty no longer requires his secret services.

I’ve been critical of his take on James since around The World is Not Enough, and prior to that I'm pretty sure I merely allowed nostalgia to bamboozle. It occurred to me after World especially that Brosnan was Bond’s Greatest Hits, giving us nothing we hadn’t already seen and everything we thought we wanted.

As the years wore on, Pierce became progressively more and more vocal about his dislike of the way the franchise was being handled. He wanted to take Bond into more dangerous, character-driven territory while the Broccolis (the 007 producers) seemed happy treading whiz-bang water. We’ve yet to see what Casino Royale puts forth, but it’s beginning to look like someone took Pierce’s advice after he exited the premises. Watching The Matador (which Brosnan also produced), I couldn’t help thinking that he got the last laugh.

The film also stars Greg Kinnear as a down-on-his-luck salesman trying to work out the finer details of the one job that may save not only his career, but also his marriage to high-school sweetheart Bean (Hope Davis). It’s in a Mexico City bar where Kinnear’s Danny Wright meets Julian Noble over margaritas and somehow this mismatched, broken pair of men manages to change each other’s lives. Even the movie’s tagline is an inspired bit of contrivance: “A hitman and a salesman walk into a bar…”

Somehow, in some way Greg Kinnear has slowly worked his way into the role of damn fine American actor. Kick-starting the whole process was his Oscar-nominated Simon the fag in As Good as It Gets, and following that with fare like Nurse Betty, The Gift, and Auto Focus, well, Kinnear has come a long way since Talk Soup. His Danny Wright is the latest in the chain of great Greg guys and I dare say it isn’t as good as it’ll get. I predict a day in which Kinnear wins a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. Yup, this cat is that fuckin’ good.

There’s a scene around the halfway point of the film – a scene we later discover was far more pivotal than what we’re given onscreen at the time – in which Julian pays Danny a visit late at night outside his hotel room. Julian bangs on the door, begging and wailing for Danny to open so he can apologize for being an insensitive clod. Danny sits alone inside, mere feet away, drinking himself into an oblivious haze. These are not two men we necessarily want to be, but they are two men we want to understand and for whom we wish the very best.