Matador, The (United States/Germany/Ireland, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's not hard to be enthusiastic about The Matador, an uncommon buddy film starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. The movie has a nicely modulated mix of comedy and pathos, but succeeds as much because of the two lead performances as Richard Shepard's writing and directing. This is an audience-pleaser through-and-through, but one wonders whether the title (which is appropriate but not catchy) may fail to entice viewers. In fact, it may keep some sensitive animal-lovers away.

Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a burned-out hitman trying to perform a few last jobs before getting out of the business. One night in a Mexico City hotel bar, he encounters businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), and strikes up a conversation. The next day, they meet again, and Julian ends up taking Danny to a bullfight. True confessions ensue, and Julian reveals to Danny that he's an assassin, then gives him a primer on how to kill someone. (This is a lot funnier than it sounds - trust me.) The two part, only to re-kindle the friendship a year later when Julian shows up at Danny's Denver home.

One of the reasons this film works as well as it does is because Danny doesn't go through the shock/outrage cliché phase when he learns about Julian's profession. He's nonplused, but takes it in stride. As a result, we get one of the movie's best sequences, in which Julian teaches Danny the tricks of his trade as they go on a mock hit. Another wonderful scene occurs later, when Julian shows up in Denver and Danny's wife, Bean (Hope Davis), wants to see his gun. In addition, there's a moment reminiscent of the boulder scene in Sexy Beast, except in this case the object is a tree instead of a big rock.

Pierce Brosnan plays his role with a kind of manic energy more appropriate to Basil Fawlty than James Bond. This gives him an opportunity to distance himself from the role that has defined the last decade of his career. It takes less than a minute for us to forget about 007 and focus on Julian. He's the kind of oddball who will tell a kid, "Smell ya, shouldn't have to tell ya" just before killing a man in cold blood. While his lover lies sleeping, he rifles through her pocketbook looking for her nail polish so he can paint his toenails. And he has no problem walking through a hotel lobby in cowboy boots, a tight pair of swim trunks, and nothing else.

Greg Kinnear is the straight man - a part for which he has shown considerable skill over the years. Kinnear is the perfect everyman, and that's what the screenplay demands. He's non-threatening and non-controversial. He's believable as a guy who married his high school sweetheart and is concerned about losing his job. Hope Davis introduces an intriguing dynamic into the movie. Danny is deeply in love with Bean, and Julian is intrigued. It's left up to us to decide whether his infatuation is with Bean or with the idea that two people could be as devoted to one another as these two are.

Together, Danny and Julian make an appealing pair - something that's mandatory for the story to work. They're an odd couple, to be sure, but each fills a need for the other. It can be difficult to find the right mix of comedy and drama in a movie of this nature, but Shepard does a solid job. There's nothing edgy or groundbreaking about The Matador, but it's funny, touching, and ultimately endearing - and it's tough to ask more of this sort of film.

Matador, The (United States/Germany/Ireland, 2005)

Director: Richard Shepard
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis
Screenplay: Richard Shepard
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Music: Rolfe Kent
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2005-12-23
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1