Thursday, March 09, 2006

Script Versus Film: The Matador

The whole purpose of the ‘Script Versus Film’ series is to compare the experience of reading and evaluating a script compared with the finished version of the film’s release. It came to me while I was watching Brokeback Mountain - a film I enjoyed more than actually reading the script.

As a screenwriter, this interested me greatly and taught me a valuable lesson that what you slave over with on the page (as a writer, and a reader) can be greatly enhanced by the cast and crew’s effort to make it come alive on screen. When I first started script reading in 1999, I fell into the easy trap of thinking that every script was rubbish, and immediately felt superior to everything I read which was reflected in my haughty critique.

Nowadays, I am far less destructive of people’s scripts and like to think that my reports are constructive and discerning in that I try to grasp the writer’s point-of-view or intention when presenting the story in their chosen fashion. It’s an ideal world scenario of course because scripts are so subjective and hit-and-miss because of their specific form and content.

The vast majority of scripts I’ve read I have rejected but a good handful have made it to the cinema to enjoy healthy returns at the box office. And so now we come to The Matador, written and directed by Richard Shephard and starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. Apparently, Mr Shephard sent Pierce Brosnan the script as a sample so he could write Thomas Crown Affair 2 but Brosnan’s production company (Irish Dreamtime) thought it was too good a sample to pass up, so they decided to make it themselves.

This is where I beg to differ. At least at the script stage anyway. I’ve yet to see the film but James Moran reliably informs me that the film is a good laugh and solid entertainment, and defies the cinematic oxymoron of the ‘comedy thriller’.

I read the script in April 2003 when Matthew Broderick was being touted for the Greg Kinnear role. Here’s what I thought (spoilers etc):

“The concept for this film isn’t bad and sets up neat expectations of a tricky thriller about an ordinary guy who gets involved with a ruthless hitman. When the hitman comes to the guy’s home looking for help, the guy is forced to take part in the hitman’s next target.

This situation has a fair amount of intrigue and dramatic possibility but unfortunately, the story throws away its potential to favour a weak plot about a hitman who develops a conscience and an ordinary guy who becomes his friend. The plot introduces the two lead characters and their particular situation, and as they become unlikely friends, the story raises obvious dramatic expectations about what is going to happen. Danny, the ordinary guy, befriends Julian, the ruthless hitman, in Mexico and you just know that their friendship is going to have serious repercussions for Danny.

However, the plot curiously avoids cranking up the drama and thriller elements of the story, and Danny’s life does not get threatened as initially anticipated. Instead, the film’s tone falters between light and dark moments, and the developing friendship between Danny and Julian becomes more and more unconvincing. This is largely because of the weak characterisation assigned to the cast.

As the lead character, Julian Noble, the hitman, does not effectively make the transition from ruthless killer into guilt ridden murderer, and Danny’s set up as an insecure, cash strapped husband seemed convenient and unlikely because his wife Bean was such a nice and supporting wife. Danny and Julian’s repartee didn’t have an engaging spark and the humorous or light attempts didn’t really blend in well with the mood of the film. The plot develops in an improbable fashion, which leads to a disappointing finale.

The film’s structure is quite poor because of the plot’s improbable developments. The opening sequences were fine and likeable but the crucial progress of the second act failed to move the characters and situation forward in a convincing manner. After Julian asks for Danny’s help in his next assignment, Julian tries to apologise for the offer but Danny won’t let him in to his hotel room.

Then the script jumps to six months later where Julian is in Venice to bump off his next target but he bundles the job and the plot jumps to two weeks later where Julian disrupts Danny’s marital bliss to ask for help because Danny owes him one from Mexico. A flashback reveals that Danny asked Julian to kill off his business rival so Danny could get his finances back on track. All this was poorly dealt with and Danny and Bean’s welcoming reaction to Julian didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Presumably, Pierce Brosnan is destined for the role of Julian Noble while (possibly) Matthew Broderick will take the mild mannered part of Danny Wright. However, it would be more interesting if the reverse were true – Broderick to be the hitman and Brosnan for the salesman role – as this might add a twist and appeal to what’s on offer.

Unfortunately, what is on offer isn’t all that great. The film has some good moments but the film takes on a too light approach to its subject and setting, and the proper development of two characters in this situation is not decently followed through. There are laudable attempts to keep the action and pace going at an agreeable level but the story loses its appeal because of the shaky developments.

There’s not enough character insight or development, and only perfunctory efforts are made to give the characters an emotional root. This may make a fleeting appearance at the box office but ultimately it is unlikely to leave a lasting impression.”


James Moran said...

Interesting - that flashback you mention, just as Brosnan invades the family home, isn't brought into play until much later in the movie. You get a sense that something is not quite right, that you're not being told everything, but it only becomes clear towards the end. I'll have to check the script out, it's clearly a case where the process enhanced rather than diluted it.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit off topic, but other people reading this might be interested in the Golcanda Films and the Script Factory horror scriptwriting competition I just spotted on the Times website.

Apparently there will be another script doctor surgery from 4pm today here:

Stephen Gallagher said...

I've seen the film, and it pretty much doesn't work in exactly the ways you reckon the script didn't work!

Robin Kelly said...

"The film has some good moments but the film takes on a too light approach to its subject and setting, and the proper development of two characters in this situation is not decently followed through."

Yes, that's what I felt about it ultimately after seeing the film but those good moments were good enough for me not to be too annoyed.

Danny Stack said...


When I read the script, a lot of "buzz" had generated around it with just about everyone fawning over it, but I couldn't see it myself. Must go see to check how it panned out.