The brute simplicity of “O Matador/The Killer” makes it feel like an over-budgeted student film, at times.
This Brazilian B-Western as has a striking, alien setting — the desert lands of Pernambuco — and the story and style of storytelling are downright primitive.
But don’t go into it with the idea that you’ve found the font from which the next “Spaghetti Westerns” will spring from. The acting is soap operatic, the action is sluggish and static and even the sound effects rob the shoot-outs — murders, actually, as most of the protagonists are hired killers of the Brazil of the 1910s to 1940s — sound like popguns.
And the story? So many characters, threads, murder after murder in a lawless land, endless parenthetical victims, killers, killer’s bosses, hookers and the like.
There’s even a pause for a duet, sung by a town boss (Etienne Chicot) and his wife (Maria de Medeiros), in FRENCH no less.
Hell, I’ll watch anything with horses and bad hombres (“Homa mal” in Portuguese). But this? Crikey.
It’s sort of an “Outlaw Josie Wales” tale, about Cabeleira, a foundling plucked from the desert by Seven Ears and raised to hunt, survive and kill.
Until that day Seven Ears (Deto Montenegro) doesn’t come back from “The City of Men,” which is actually a village. That’s when the unnamed foundling comes to town, comes to call himself Cabeleira, and comes to have a taste for the coin of the realm for killers in these parts in these hard times — gemstones.
Cabeleira (Diogo Morgado of the recent faith-based film “Son of God”) becomes a killer for hire, shooting and outsmarting the likes of Dry Mouth, The Peruvian, The Gringo, Sobral and The Monkeys. Head shots, tongue-cuttings and rapes abound. The film’s treatment of women is so retrograde as to be hateful and misogynistic to North American eyes.
The entire tale is told by a cowboy taken by surprise by two bad hombres (Homens maus), a lazy framing device that leads to lots of voice over narration, which doesn’t really make the story move any faster or more sensibly.
If you’re going to watch it, take the time change your Netflix settings to endure it with subtitles. I tried a half hour of the dubbed version and it is excruciating. The dubbing is done by the most sissy-voiced Portuguese speakers available, so in order to take this the least bit seriously you’ve got to watch it with subtitles.
I could see a Western working in this setting, maybe even with this star (Morgado as screen presence). But “The Killer” or “O Matador” if you prefer, is a bit woebegone, grim going pretty much from start to finish.
MPAA Rating: graphic violence, much of it directed against women, explicit sex
Cast: Diogo Mordado, EtienneThais Cabral, Etiene Chicot, Will Roberts, Deto Montenegro
Credits: Written and directed by Marcelo Galvão. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39