The Matador Review
By Joe Lozito
Pain in the Assassin
As a kid in 1986, I remember being very angry that Pierce Brosnan couldn't get out of his "Remington Steele" contract to play James Bond. I felt Mr. Brosnan, then 33, would be perfect for the role of the famed British super spy. Finally nine years later, after two forgettable Timothy Dalton Bond entries, Mr. Brosnan landed the role. While the four Brosnan Bond movies were improvements, they never quite hit the heights for which I thought he was destined. When I heard the role recently went to Daniel Craig, I felt there was a missed opportunity in the Bond franchise for that one great Brosnan Bond movie. Little did I know that all this time Mr. Brosnan has been working his way up to the role of assassin Julian Noble in writer-director Richard Shepard's comedy "The Matador".
With shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, perpetual subtle and a natural Irish lilt, Mr. Brosnan is freed from much of the posturing and preening and has ill-served him in the past. When we first meet his Julian, he is going through the motions of his chosen profession: jetsetting via first class to exotic locations, exchanging briefcases with anonymous contacts and, occasionally, pulling a few triggers from an opportune perch. After a particularly efficient Mexico City hit, Julian realizes that he has forgotten his own birthday and, worse, has no one to celebrate it with. Drowning his sorrows in a hotel bar, he bumps into traveling consultant Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear, also perfectly cast) and a strange friendship is born.
Mr. Kinnear has played the milquetoast before, but here he seems to have found the perfect everyman. His Danny is thoroughly believable as the loving husband with just enough of a devious side to get involved with Julian in the first place. Between "Matador" and his excellent performance in Paul Schrader's 2002 Bob Crane biopic "Auto Focus"
, Mr. Kinnear is showing a range that could never have been imagined when he was still mugging his way through the E Network's "Talk Soup".
Hope Davis is also along for the ride as Danny's good-natured wife with the unexplained name of Bean. Ms. Davis is always a charming presence and she comes through here as always.
What the film does with the Julian/Danny friendship is the real joy of Mr. Shepard's refreshingly smart comedy. While the premise dips into territory previous covered by "Analyze This"
and "The Sopranos", among others, Mr. Shepard keeps the film's pace snappy and always stays true to his characters. In the end the film doesn't say much about the morality of Julian's profession and everything gets wrapped up in an awfully neat package. But that's fine. Mr. Shepard isn't trying to make any statements. Except, maybe, don't underestimate Pierce Brosnan.