By: Joe Leydon
A Miramax Films release of a Stratus Film Co. and DEJ Prods. presentation in association with Equity Pictures Medienfonds KG II of a Furst Films/Irish Dreamtime production. Produced by Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair, Sean Furst, Bryan Furst. Executive producers, Bob Yari, Mark Gordon, Adam Merims, Andreas Thiesmeyer, Josef Lautenschlager, Andy Reimer. Co-producers, Brad Jenkel, Gerd Koechlin, Manfred Heid.
Directed, written by Richard Shepard. Camera (FotoKem color), David Tattersall; editor, Carole Kravetz-Akyanian; music, Rolfe Kent; production designer, Rob Pearson; art director, Marcelo Del Rio; set decorators, Carlos Gutierrez, Patrice Laure; costume designer, Catherine Thomas; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Santiago Nunez; associate producers, Amanda J. Scarano, Susanne Bohnet; assistant director, Richard L. Fox; casting, Carla Hool. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premiere), Jan. 21, 2005. Running time: 97 MIN.
Julian Noble ..... Pierce
Deftly maneuvering through audacious mood swings and tonal shifts, "The Matador" emerges as a quirky yet commercial commingling of black comedy, seriocomic psychodrama, heart-tugging sudser and buddy-movie farce. Propelled by a fearlessly self-mocking perf by Pierce Brosnan as a swaggering vulgarian who's losing his edge as an international hit man, writer-director Richard Shepard's eccentric amalgam remains funny and sustains interest even during a shaky third act. Still, pic will require critical kudos and clever marketing to maximize bullish theatrical potential before charging into ancillary venues.
Pic pivots on a chance meeting between strangers in a hotel bar, the kind of latenight interlude that encourages complete honestly between lonely travelers who feel secure in their anonymity. Denver businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) is in Mexico City to close a deal that he desperately hopes will end a long string of bad luck that includes the loss of his son in a school bus accident.
As he nurses a margarita in the wee small hours, Danny shares his not-so-quiet desperation with an improbably simpatico stranger: Julian Noble (Brosnan), a vet assassin marking time after his latest "corporate gig" as a "facilitator of fatalities."
The first meeting ends badly when Julian, chronically averse to emotional displays, tries to change the subject with a crude joke. The next day, however, Julian apologizes and invites Danny to a bullfight.
After a popular matador ends a mano a toro matchup with a single, graceful sword thrust --- and Julian pointedly admires the bullfighter's professionalism --- Danny again asks Julian what he does for a living. So Julian tells him. Danny is incredulous, then horrified --- and, ultimately, genuinely curious.
Throughout pic, but especially in the early scenes, Shepard does bang-up job of lacing humorous scenes with an undercurrent of threat, hinting that gregarious Julian is capable of turning fatally violent without warning.
Danny rebuffs Julian when the latter attempts to enlist the businessman's assistance in an upcoming killing. Six months later, however, Julian appears on Danny's Denver doorstep, teetering on the brink of professional burnout and psychological meltdown. After bungling two assignments due to panic attacks, blurred vision and other psychosomatic ills, Julian has been marked for termination.
Once again, the hit man asks the businessman to collaborate on a killing. This time, however, Julian plays a trump card. "You owe me," he tells Danny, cryptically alluding to something heretofore unrevealed. When Danny reluctantly agrees, the audience is left to imagine why.
Bedecked in gold chains and loud clothing, and seldom far from a potent drink or a nubile hooker, Brosnan exuberantly trashes his slick screen persona from the James Bond pics, "The Thomas Crown Affair" remake (1999) and other bigscreen outings. (A wink-wink sight gag recalls 007's penchant for shaken-not-stirred martinis.) Coming off as a cross between a sleazy used-car salesman and a party-hearty conventioneer, actor continues to be boisterously likable even after pic shows Julian's dead-serious approach to killing.
But "Matador" wouldn't be nearly as much fun if Brosnan didn't develop an aptly edgy give-and-take with Kinnear. Latter roots pic in some semblance of reality with his subtle portrayal of a decent fellow who has been driven close to despair by tragedy, and who finds himself by turns appalled, intrigued and unexpectedly supportive while forging a most unlikely friendship.
Unfortunately, pic's refusal to risk aud's regard for Danny by cutting away from the outcome of a key scene in the final reel bespeaks a last-minute failure of nerve.
In the underwritten role of Danny's wife, Hope Davis makes a strong impression while conveying character's lusty regard for her husband and unseemly interest in Julian's firepower. Pic is basically a three-hander, with only notable support coming from Adam Scott as Danny's business partner and Philip Baker Hall and (fleetingly) Dylan Baker as Julian's overseers.
Filmed on location in Mexico City, which doubles nicely for Denver, Budapest and several other locales, "The Matador" benefits from vividly colorful production design by Rob Pearson and sharp lensing by David Tattersall.
Costumer Catherine Thomas
accolades for providing Brosnan with attire garish enough to serve as a
running sight gag. And speaking of sight gags: Scene in which Brosnan
through hotel lobby clad only in cowboy boots and skimpy Speedo is
With big deals
breaking at Sundance
-- including the biggest ever -- here are some films that will
be coming to a theater near you.
Miramax's pursuit of "The
also makes perfect sense, and not just because it stars Pierce Brosnan
in a complete departure from his typical suave tuxedoed role. The film
lies somewhere between a character-driven heist along the lines of
Beast" and a slightly dark buddy movie. It's small and a little odd and
the payoffs are inconsistent, but when Brosnan's lonely assassin meets
up with Greg Kinnear's hopelessly square yuppie, the unlikely
that forms is unpredictable enough to hold our attention to the end. Of
course, Hope Davis' brilliant turn as Kinnear's naive but slightly
wife -- who asks, breathlessly, to see Brosnan's gun soon after meeting
him -- is the cherry on director Richard Shepard's sundae. And just try
to imagine Brosnan with a tiny mustache, spitting lines like, "I look
a Bangkok whore on a Sunday morning after the Navy left town." Tough to
picture, isn't it? Better go see it for yourself.
Pierce Brosnan's deliciously uninhibited performance lifts this crime caper above the ordinary, says Mike Goodridge
A crime comedy which plays like Pulp Fiction-ultra-lite, The Matador is an unlikely fit for the Sundance Film Festival where it world premiered on Saturday night. Broad, benign and cheerfully implausible, it is an independently financed film with mainstream sensibilities and distributors who have already committed will be pleased with their purchase.
Chief among its pleasures is a deliciously uninhibited performance from Pierce Brosnan, whose post-Bond career looks promising if he continues to subvert his screen persona like this.
At time of writing, The Matador hadn’t yet scored a domestic distribution deal, but buyers were buzzing, and Syndicate Films will mop up international sales once word is out that the film plays well with audiences.
The Matador was financed by Bob Yari through his Stratus Film Company – he also owns Syndicate – with Blockbuster’s DEJ division and German media fund Equity Pictures. It’s a good-looking production shot entirely in Mexico City which plays itself as well as doubling for Denver, Tucson, Budapest and Manila!
It’s a handsome independent production and feels like a studio picture, not least because of its impressive cast led by Brosnan and Greg Kinnear.
Writer/director Richard Shepard, whose credits include lower-budget indie thrillers Oxygen and Mercy, plays it for laughs rather than exploring the darker elements of its subject matter. But the film’s good nature, however amoral, keeps it on course and it should stand up well with other hitman comedies like Grosse Pointe Blank or The Big Hit, if not matching the box office of The Whole Nine Yards.
Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a grumpy assassin-for-hire with a bad dress sense and a coarse South London accent who usually kills off businessmen as commissioned through middlemen by their rivals. Having blown up one such victim in Denver, he heads to Mexico City to bump off another.
Kinnear plays Danny Wright, an entrepreneur whose new business is on the skids and whose future may depend on the success of a pitch he and his partner (Scott) make in Mexico City. Danny leaves behind his devoted wife Bean (Davis) in Denver.
Julian and Danny meet at
bar and, while Danny waits for a couple of days for the outcome of his
pitch meeting, the two become fast friends. At a bullfight, Julian
that he is an assassin and, although Danny doesn’t believe him at
he is soon persuaded after various demonstrations of his
Six months later, Julian is on the rocks. Bungled jobs in Manila and Budapest have left him a nervous wreck and a death warrant is put out on him. His only option is to go to Danny, his only friend, to seek help.
The tone throughout the film is wildly uneven, and it veers between polished comedy, dark satire, serious action thriller and comedy caper. There is also a gay streak in Julian’s character, hinted at but never explored, which would have added an edge to what will otherwise be perceived as a soft film.
But Brosnan keeps it watchable. Whether parading around the hotel in his speedos, falling about drunk or coming on to women, and Danny, like some past-it south London lothario, he lifts the film out of the ordinary.
Julian Noble's march across a Mexico City hotel patio, wearing black speedos and cowboy boots, is one of those deliriously incandescent moments that flash across the screen from time to time. Pierce Brosnan's full-on performance as an aging hit man makes this just one of the outrageous scenes on The Matador. In imagining an unlikey friendship between Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, writer/director Richard Shepard (with the supercharged help of cinematographer David Tattersall and editor Carole Kravitz-Aykanian) serves up two portraits of desperation. He also delivers one wildly frenetic riff on the transformational properties of comraderie. What transpires between Danny and Julian in Mexico is bizarre enough. When Julian shows up at Danny's home in Denver, things go from mad to sweetly perverse. Skillfully maneuvering a number of genres here, Shepard could easily be the matador of his movie's title. With a character like Julian, he's taken a lot of bull and won.
Michael Dwyer gives his verdict on some of the movies that made a splash at the 30th Toronto International Film Festival (10-05)
A man changing sex, a Gulf War veteran cracking up, sex tourists of different genders and generations, the assassination of a politician, an assassin losing his grip, the production of a religious movie, a sadistic employment process, and the journeys of two women from conservative backgrounds to notoriety. All human life was on screen at the 30th Toronto International Film Festival, and these were just some of the themes covered over the final days of the stimulating and wide-ranging event. While most of those movies were firmly rooted in realism, it was notable that the films featuring fictional scenarios proved more compelling than the factually based pictures.
Having won an Emmy award last Sunday as frazzled mother-of-four Lynette Scavo in Desperate Housewives , Felicity Huffman well deserves an Oscar nomination next January for her adventurous and touching portrayal of a man who desperately wants to be a woman in the ambiguously titled serious comedy, Transamerica.
She plays Stanley, who now prefers to be known as Bree, and is holding down two jobs in Los Angeles to pay for the final stages in "sexual reassignment surgery". With just days to go to the operation, he gets a call saying a 17-year-old boy, Toby (Kevin Zegers), has been arrested in New York and is claiming to be his son.
Coincidentally, this theme - of fathers seeking out lost sons, and sons finding lost fathers - has been one of the preoccupations in movies this year and was to the forefront of several films showcased at Cannes in May: Broken Flowers, Don't Come Knockin', The King, L'Enfant . In Transamerica it transpires that Toby is the product of Stanley's sole heterosexual experience back in his college days, and he reluctantly goes east to bail him out.
Although he objects to Toby's behaviour - his grammar, smoking, cocaine-snorting, and street hustling to make ends meet - Stanley/Bree eventually agrees to bring Toby with him to Los Angeles. The screenplay takes on the form of a classic road movie in that it becomes a journey on which they discover themselves and each other, and they encounter diverse characters along the way - partying Dallas transsexuals, a kindly Native American (Graham Greene) who takes a shine to Bree, and Bree's mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who is aghast at the change in her Stanley but thrilled to find she has a grandson in Toby.
The first feature film from writer- director Duncan Tucker, Transamerica is a fresh, imaginative spin on a familiar genre. It is as often poignant as it is uproariously funny, as Bree struggles to conceal her true identity from Toby, and the route to that inevitable revelation is inventively plotted.
The interplay between the two principal characters is enhanced by the performances of Zegers, a highly promising young actor, and Huffman, wonderfully subtle in a role that so easily could have been overplayed.
Her Desperate Housewives co-star, Eva Longoria, and Six Feet Und er regular Freddy Rodriguez play a young Los Angeles couple whose relationship comes under severe strain as he falls deeper under the bad influence of his best friend, a volatile Gulf War veteran (Christian Bale), in Harsh Times , the accomplished first feature directed by Training Day screenwriter David Ayer.
In yet another vigorous stretch as an actor, Bale indelibly etches his character as a man coiled up with frustration that is released in increasingly violent outbursts, and Rodriguez is consistently engaging as the conflicted conscience of Ayer's gritty, hard-edged drama that commendably eschews any false sense of hope in its uncompromising conclusion.
Nor does French director Laurent Cantet pull any punches in Heading South (Vers le Sud), which is as thoughtful and challenging as his earlier Time Out (L'emploi du Temps), in which a middle-aged businessman concocts an elaborate scheme to conceal his newly unemployed status from his family. Cantet's latest film deals with sex tourists in late 1970s Haiti, but this story's sexual predators do not conform to the stereotype of seedy old men.
They are, in fact, well-to-do middle-aged women jealously competing for the paid sexual favours of a handsome 18-year-old beach boy. The movie directly addresses both the nature of this exploitation and the intense sexual satisfaction it provides. Situating the simmering drama against the corruption and intimidation of the infamous "Baby Doc" Duvalier dictatorship, Cantet's fine film features outstanding performances from Charlotte Rampling and Karen Young as the most sexually demanding - and needy - of the visiting women.
Played by Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson, the sex tourists in Hostel are US college students revelling in sex and drugs over a summer holiday in Europe when they hear about the unlimited sexual prospects available at a hostel-cum-spa outside Bratislava. What they don't know is the terrible fate that awaits them in this nervy, slickly orchestrated horror movie made with true genre panache by Eli Roth, the writer-director of Cabin Fever.
Unsettling for very different reasons, Argentine director Macelo Pineyro's The Gronholm Method plays sadistically with the minds of its central characters, seven applicants for a high-level post at a multinational corporation in Madrid. Or should that be six, given an early suggestion that one of them may be a management plant? Anti-globalisation protests take place on the streets outside the locked office where competitive executives are put through an elimination process that is altogether nastier than a TV reality show such as Big Brother. The movie's stage origins are transparent, but all the more effectively so in capturing the claustrophobic confines of a compelling movie that's just as cynical as the corporate exercise it depicts.
Edison, the US thriller chosen to close the Toronto festival at the weekend, is, unfortunately, merely cynical - or maybe just naive - in its rehash of tired movie cliches. Set in a fictional US city named Edison, where the crime rate has collapsed in recent years, it features Justin Timberlake in a blankly inexpressive acting debut as a dogged young free-sheet journalist intent on unravelling and exposing a stinking web of police corruption. The cast also includes Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Dylan McDermott, LL Cool J, Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo and John Heard, but most have little to do but overact - Heard, in particular, chews the scenery bare - in a movie enlivened only by a couple of decently organised action sequences and sunk by rafts of risible dialogue. What's most puzzling is that such an implausible picture of newspaper reporters could emanate from a former journalist, writer-director, David J Burke.
Abel Ferrara's new film,
from another unlikely premise, that a sombre, serious TV show dealing
religious matters would be a nightly media sensation in the US. Forest
Whitaker impassively plays the show's presenter, who is enjoying the
trappings of fame. One of his guests is an egomaniac film director
Modine) cashing in on the huge success of The Passion of the Christ by
making a religious drama in which the director himself gets to play
and by whipping up a controversy to boost its box-office. Juliette
is woefully under-used as the actress supposedly transformed by playing
Mary Magdalene in Ferrara's muddled attempt at provocation.
Beyond capturing Gretchen Mol's heroically uninhibited performance as Page, this meandering, repetitive movie fails to explain Harron's fascination with her subject. Page, who is still alive, refused to co-operate with the project, just as Jean Harris declined to be involved with Mrs Harris, which is from the same producers as Harron's film, beyond taking a phone call from Annette Bening, who plays her in the movie. Written and directed by Phyllis Nagy with a jarring awkwardness of tone and structure, the movie sustains interest only through the commendably committed performances of Ben Kingsley as Herman Tanower, the cardiologist who devised the Scarsdale diet and is depicted as a callously self-gratifying womaniser, and Bening as the sophisticated but emotionally brittle schoolteacher who loved him for 15 years and was convicted of his murder in 1980.
The title of Dutch director Theo van Gogh's final film, 06/05 , refers to the date in 2002 when the controversial right-wing and openly gay politician, Pim Fortuyn, who was leading in the pre-election polls, was shot dead outside a TV station in Hilversum. The movie employs archival footage within a tangled and demanding hypothetical plot that explores the killing and its aftermath. The thriller takes on a chilling resonance given that, just 30 months after that assassination, van Gogh himself was murdered on a street in Amsterdam.
The role of Julian Noble, the professional hit-man at the centre of The Matador - or "facilitator of fatalities", as he describes himself - is played for laughs and with tongue admirably in cheek by Pierce Brosnan. Noble is jaded and losing his touch when, on an assignment in Mexico City, he encounters a US businessman (Greg Kinnear) longing for a break. That chance meeting changes both their lives in director Richard Shepard's spirited, briskly paced yarn, featuring Brosnan in the wittiest, most self-effacing performance of his career. Wearing a moustache that would be more appropriate on a 1970s porn star, he shrugs off a compliment about his appearance with the line "I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning, after the navy's left town". In another scene, as he strides nonchalantly in black Speedos and leather boots through a busy hotel lobby, Brosnan puts his James Bond days firmly and finally behind him.
Copyright © 2005
Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.
Comment from Susan Wloszczyna: Happy Wednesday one and all. Once again I was taken aback by the distinct lack of excitement about last weekend's new movies. Maybe 'Wallace & Gromit' are just too British to charm one and all. Too bad. So much more delightful than a screaming pop reference machine like 'Shark Tale.' And poor 'In Her Shoes.'
On a brighter note, I saw two of the spanking new Weinstein Co.'s upcoming fare and was quite entertained. Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins and, oh my gosh, Christopher Guest all shine in 'Mrs. Henderson Presents,' about a rich widow who buys a theater and decides to do nudie revues in WW2. And I quite enjoyed too soon to be retired old Bond, Pierce Brosnan as a burned out hitman who hides out with regular joe Greg Kinnear. If no one goes to see either of these films, they might as well close all theaters and turn them into DVD kiosks. Now it's your turn.
Savannah, GA: Hi Susan, I think the fall is off to a terrific start in terms of quality, I've seen several good films and expect "Capote" and "Good Night and Good Luck" in the next few weeks. What other great films should I look for before Thanksgiving? What about "The Matador", "The Squid and The Whale" and "Bee Season"?
Susan Wloszczyna: 'Matador' was a surprising treat -- Pierce Bronsan just has a ball with this part and the soundtrack was a kick -- starts with 'A Town Called Malice' and improves from there. 'The Squid and the Whale' is worth seeing for Jeff Daniels. 'Bee Season' disappointed many at Toronto, including those who enjoyed the book.
Pierce Brosnan puts his James Bond persona through a helluva funhouse mirror to portray one superfreak of a hit man in writer-director Richard Shepard's enjoyable shaggy-dog story, which takes an almost indecent amount of pleasure in upending one's expectations as to what a black comedy about an assassin-for-hire making an unlikely friendship with a regular guy should deliver. The fakeouts are fun; Greg Kinnear in the regular-guy role, is a perfect foil as Brosnan swears, sweats, and stomps through a hotel lobby in a Speedo and cowboy boots, making you wonder just what his character's sexual orientation is, exactly. And Hope Davis is hilarious as Kinnear's strangely giddy wife; she made me feel bad for all the nasty things I said about her in my review of Proof a couple of issues back, except for the stuff that pertained to her work in Proof itself. Sorry, Ms. Davis.
Richard Shepard's The Matador is a satiric little Mobius strip of a movie, but the results are more tangy then usual. As Julian Noble, an expert but half-sozzled international assassin on the verge of a crack up who gloms onto Greg Kinnear's Danny Wright in a Mexico City hotel bar, Brosnan looks every inch of his fifty three years. As if liberated by seediness, he's also funnier and more intimate then he's ever been.
The movie's premise is the familiar story, one that novelist Patricia Highsmith told again and again, of an innocent meeting his sinister mirror image, but it's played- and it's about time, too -as a sick-joke parody of a buddy comedy, until it turns wilder when Danny's wife, Bean (Hope Davis, wonderful as usual) enters the picture.
The real ingenuity of Shepard's script, though, is the transparent way Julian's exotic profession works as a cartoonish metaphor; making him an assassin only heightens what's actually a comic parable about raffish unconventionality meeting the middle class- or about celebrity and fanhood, which is where Brosnan's lively, atypically self-revealing performance provides an extra charge.
On top of razzing the seamy underside of the Bond flicks' amorality, he's delivering a hilariously barbed commentary on his own mystifying, ridiculously well-rewarded career. From his murderous trade to his low life cosmopolitanism, Julian isn't just 007's scuzzy doppelganger; he's a caricature of movie-star ego and glamour, and the basic joke of Shepard's satire is that his line of work turns him into the ultimate outrageous but endearing bachelor friend who livens up a middle class couple's lives. When Julian gets around to soliciting Danny's help on a job, the businessman naturally balks. Nevertheless it's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him. By the time Julian, now on the run from his vengeful bosses, shows up at his door in Denver six months later, Danny, in one of Shepard's nicest visual gags, has grown an imitation of the killer's rakish mustache, possibly to distract his wife from the way his glasses fog up when they're making love.
As for Bean, she's thrilled to have the crazy assassin she's heard so much about as a houseguest. Breaking out the whiskey to help him feel at home, she's soon pushing Danny to help him with his problems- which means pitching in on another killing. Hope Davis can say more with the tilt of her nose then most actresses could manage with a full set of semaphore flags, and she's splendidly funny at catching the demure amorality of a sweetie-pie housewife who'd be up for anything if life just handed her the chance.
She isn't working in a vacuum though. All three leads play off one another with such comic brio that the parodic subtexts- the whole raft of un-bourgeois temptations that Julian's randy, alarming presence in the Wright's home represents -are plain as day. His dangerous life isn't just code for swinging bachelorhood or bohemian free-spiritness. In an undeveloped but suggestive way, it's also code for gayness, despite Julian's strenuous romps with a variety of female bedmates. And of course it's code for being famous- what Julian is in this household, which is why the Wrights are so ready to toss their values aside and play by his rules. Greg Kinnear's characteristically excellent performance as the patsy- yes, he's the new Jack Lemmon, and on good days he matches the old one -i s almost done in by the reaction shots that turn every one of Danny's queasy, eager grins into a punch line.
Even so, Shepard pulls off something original. The movie is small, and lighthearted, and yet it's got all sorts of furtive, delicious resonances. One nice thing about this meeting of opposites is that envy works both ways. In Julian, the Wrights are seeing all the excitement they've missed, and they're gung ho to make up for lost time. But even though Shepard is mocking their inanity, he's very gentle about it. What he really wants us to register is Julian's wistfulness at his glimpse of a world where nebbishes like Danny really do marry their high school sweethearts, cope with life's disasters (the Wrights lost their only child a while back), and get by. That doesn't mean that Julian has any regrets about enlisting Danny to bail him out, since survival comes first. But as he measures Bean's unconsciously hot to trot face, he's also looking at something else he can kill- a marriage -and that's how the movie ends up being about not only what people will do out of berserk loyalty, but what people like Julian won't. The real tribute to the ebullient gonzo of Brosnan's performance is that his final gesture is so affecting, while telling us a little about what it's like to have been James Bond. It means you have to play a drunken assassin in a cleverly disguised sex farce to convince audiences that you suffer, too.
The Quirkiest Buddy Movie Of The Year
Talk about an odd couple. In Richard Shepard's quirky new film The Matador Pierce Brosnan is Julian Noble, an assassin who's tall, handsome, charming and has a yen for hookers, tequila and gold-chain necklaces. For all his vanities, Brosnan's hitman is starting to lose his nerve. His business may be his pleasure, but the pleasure is adding up to a whopping buzzkill - he's starting to see his adolescent self in every target's face. That, and he's lonely. So on his birthday, the Cockney-talking and mustachioed Julian finds himself sitting at the same hotel bar as his complete and polar opposite, Danny Wright.
Danny, played by Greg Kinnear, is short, bespectacled, flat-accented and virtuously clean-shaven, a good guy married to his high-school sweetheart, Bean (Hope Davis), whose only real deviation from normalcy is occasional romps with her on the dining room table. Life for Danny is worse than normal. After losing his job four years ago to layoffs, his son dies in a school-bus accident. A tree falls through his kitchen roof and his wife is starting to lose faith. Everything is riding on a business deal in Mexico City. Failure, for Danny, is starting to look less like an option and more like fate.
But fate is what has brought them together. Julian's breakdown has tainted his reputation as "a facilitator of fatalities." With his head now in the crosshairs, he needs Danny to get out of trouble and head to the Valhalla of assassins, Greece. Danny, for his part, also needs Julian, but in a much different way. Fate will test his moral fiber and it will be Julian, of all people, who guides him toward the straight and narrow. The Matador is the quirkiest buddy movie of the year. Here moral extremes meet and make friends, as if Jesus suddenly said to himself: "Oh what a friend I have in Satan."
Brosnan's rakishness takes the bite out of his homicidal occupation. At one point he borrows nail polish from a companionable lady-friend to color his own nails. It's the kind of humor that makes you think: Sure he kills people, but he's not all that bad. Kinnear's authentic Mr. Nice Guy is wondrously inoffensive and so funny as a complement to Brosnan's porn-star crassness. Kinnear captures ambivalence of wanting to be like Julian, but not wanting to be like him at the same time. In the end, Danny learns what Julian means when he says that guys like him have all the luck.
Of all the [current] movies centering on male angst, the most compelling by far is The Matador, Riichard Shepard’s film about a hit man suffering a nervous breakdown. This isn’t a brand new storyline, but it’s rendered with marvelous brio. Pierce Brosnan gives his best performance yet. He doesn’t try to gloss over Julian’s brutality or sleaziness, but we can understand why Danny (Greg Kinnear), the mild-mannered businessman who meets him at a hotel bar in Mexico, would be drawn to him. Julian is so honest about his amorality that he’s mesmerizing. The film has the same kind of sinful allure as Julian; it’s fast, funny and intoxicating. The violent scenes have a startling immediacy, but the film has just as much punch in its more intimate encounters. Kinnear creates a deft portrait of a cautious man who is coming apart in his own way. Reeling from the death of a child and hampered by financial pressures, Kinnear’s Danny is feeling vulnerable when he meets Julian and falls under his spell. The unlikely friendship betwen these two very different men galvanizes this macabre variation of “The Odd Couple.” Julian and Danny end up aiding each other in unexpected ways; each helps the other to quell some of his demons. The Matador may not be a profound exploration of male malaise, but it’s almost an obscenely entertaining look at two men on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Wall Street Journal
By Joe Morgenstern
Julian Noble, the scruffy, funny hit man played by Pierce Brosnan in "The Matador," says his handler calls him a facilitator -- "a facilitator of fatalities." Just so, and the writer-director, Richard Shepherd, is a facilitator of more enjoyment than you might expect from the slight story. Julian is what he says he is, but he's also over the hill, a professional assassin who has suddenly developed an unprofessional aversion to pulling the trigger. Greg Kinnear's Danny is a straight-arrow salesman, but business is bad, so Danny is willing to bend a bit in the direction of becoming Julian's temporary helper after the two men meet in a Mexico City hotel.
In essence, as well as in outline, this is a standard-issue buddy picture, with the basis for buddyship worked out carefully -- almost too carefully; the two men manage to facilitate one another. What makes it so appealing, though, is the pairing of Mr. Kinnear, who is also a superb straight man, with Mr. Brosnan, whose performance can be touching, scary and droll -- sending up James Bond without ever referring to him -- at pretty much the same time. "The Matador" has its dull patches, one of which is relieved by Hope Davis's endearing presence as Danny's wife. But what fun it is to watch Julian losing it, and Pierce Brosnan nailing it. He's worth the price of admission and then some.