|The Matador (2006)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis
Director: Richard Shepard
The Brothers Weinstein may no longer be associated with Disney and sister company Miramax, but they’re still the kings of independent cinema. The producing duo has long been revered for possessing a keen eye for solid filmmaking, and it doesn’t look like they’ve lost their touch since leaving to bankroll their own production group, aptly named the Weinstein Co. And in a period filled with award hopefuls and early bird garbage, writer/director Richard Shepard’s hilarious black comedy, “The Matador,” is the perfect introduction to a brand new company that is sure to steamroll the competition in the coming years. Featuring a whip-smart script and a charming ensemble cast led by Pierce Brosnan in a very unorthodox role, “The Matador” is a cult hit in the making.
The buddy film genre has long been overdue for a makeover, and though Shepard’s tale mixes up the formula by turning it up on its head, the usual plot trends remain. The story is about two very different men: Julian Noble (Brosnan), a cheeky assassin-for-hire with thoughts of retiring, and Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a conservative, out-of-work businessman desperate to land a big job. While in Mexico City on business (Julian for a commissioned hit and Danny for an important sales pitch), the two men unexpectedly meet at a hotel bar. Julian quickly leeches on to Danny’s good-natured personality, especially since his latest birthday celebration revealed that he has no friends, but when Danny is asked to participate in one of Julian’s upcoming “jobs,” he runs home to his wife Bean (Hope Davis) with the hope that he’ll never see Julian again. Six months later, however, Julian revisits his only friend with news that a botched hit may cost his life, and the only way out is a two-man job that requires Danny’s help.
If only more films were made like “The Matador,” Hollywood might not be suffering from such a massive box office decline. Shepard’s script is chockfull of witty dialogue and comedic moments, including a scene that involves a tree literally crashing through the Wright’s kitchen as they make love on the coffee table. The fact that the couple has just dodged a falling tree is an amazing feat, and one that would warrant some serious consoling about staring death in the face, but Danny simply looks to his wife and asks “still horny?” before the two break out in laughter.
Both Kinnear and Davis are pitch-perfect in their roles, but the character-driven comedy is more about Brosnan’s transformation than anything else. If the veteran actor was ever trying to extinguish the memories of him as James Bond with a single role, this was the one to choose. His Julian is the most entertaining film villain since Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast,” though Brosnan’s character is a much easier bloke to like. Julian radiates in the same charming appeal of 007 while still managing to be the sleaziest guy in the room. He can strut though hotel lobbies wearing only a Speedo and a pair of boots while chugging a Corona, and can win you over with a pocketful of lies. And while that might not sound as engaging as a tuxedo and fancy gadgets, it’s a lot more fulfilling.
Talk about your world’s worst DVD covers. Genius Products’ single-disc release of “The Matador” makes the film look more like a low-budget spy flick (think “Death Wish” meets James Bond) than the eccentric hitman comedy it actually is. In any event, the special features that appear on the disc are far more reflective of its quality, including two audio commentaries (the first with director Richard Shepard, and the second with Shepard and co-stars Pierce Brosnan & Greg Kinnear), a short making-of featurette, eleven deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), and two audio clips from radio interviews with Shepard while promoting the film.