2005Director: Richard Shepard
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis
or the last quarter-century, Pierce Brosnan has been playing the dashing Brit with the mysterious and dangerous occupation. Before Bond, he was thief-turned-P.I. Remington Steele, and during his run as 007, he played billionaire-playboy/thief Thomas Crown (The Thomas Crown Affair) and tailor/spy Andy Osnard (The Tailor of Panama). One could certainly debate whether constantly playing a handsome, mysterious and playful man of means actually constitutes acting, but hey, Mr. Brosnan certainly made a living.
With his turn in The Matador, however, olí Pierce seems to be taking baby steps towards widening his formerly untested range. He plays Julian Noble, a veteran assassin whose hard-living ways and stunted network of personal relationships begin to fray the edges of his personality. Weíre introduced to Julian as he lurches from sleep, hopelessly hung-over, and begins to survey the previous nightís sexual conquest (a call-girl). When Julianís gaze reaches her feet, his mind snaps into action and he rummages through her purse. What is he so intent on finding? Her toenail polish, which he applies to his own piggies with childlike delight. Not the actions of a steady person.
Despite his eccentricities, Julian has been a solid performer for the man he refers to as his ďhandler,Ē and his success leads to an unending string of assignments. For one such assignment, Julian is sent to Mexico City, where a chance meeting with Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) sets The Matadorís story in motion. Wright is painfully suburban-American, painfully white, and painfully normal. Heís in town to deliver a pitch for some generic project, and after getting some positive response, celebrates by consuming what the viewer can only assume is his yearly allowance of margaritas.
Pleasantly drunk and a little bored, Danny strikes up a conversation with Julian (the only other patron at the hotel bar). From this chat begins a friendship (Julianís one and only) that advances in fits and starts. Julianís impulsiveness and social ineptitude are matched only by Dannyís ability to forgive, especially after he learns of Julianís profession. Writer/director Richard Shepard (Oxygen) repeatedly displays Danny and his wifeís excitement at having a dangerous element in their boring lives, leading to some positive comedic results. The similar theme of Julianís longing for their simple life is hokier.
And thatís the movie in a nutshell. When Shepard focuses on Julianís sexual depravity or manic energy, which Brosnan pulls off well, The Matador is funny and entertaining. In attempting a wistful or tender moment, the film feels far more uneven. Though Kinnearís character undergoes an intriguing transformation in plumbing the depth of his friendship, the expression of his dedication (and the corresponding gratitude from Julian) isnít too far a cry from ďI love you, man!Ē The audience member cannot help but yearn for an earlier scene when Julian animatedly shepherded a justly terrified Danny through a mock-hit.
Regardless of its clumsier moments, The Matador is fairly entertaining throughout. Brosnan seems almost gleeful in shedding his former persona, diving head-first into the task of portraying someone without refinement. And despite a few forced colloquialisms (lines about Bangkok whores, etc.), he inhabits the character of Julian quite well. After all, it is Brosnanís left-field energy in relation to Kinnearís straight man that keeps the movie enjoyable; perfectly acceptable matinee fare.