February 16, 2006 -- Pierce Brosnan emphatically declares his independence from his James Bond persona with a distinctly anti-Bond portrayal of washed up hit man Julian Noble in the Hitchcock-like film “The Matador.” He's an international man of mystery, all right, but he's fed up with his life as an international playboy and assassin. He has cracked up and wants out. He envies the lives of ordinary men who don't have to hide their real identities and who have houses and wives to come home to after work.
Noble crosses paths with an ordinary man, Danny Wright (played by Greg Kinnear of “Stuck on You”) while on a job in South America. He is struck by Kinnear's much simpler life and envies Kinnear's close relationship with his wife, Carolyn 'Bean' Wright (Hope Davis of “American Splendor”). In a drunken evening's conversation, Noble reveals the true nature of his work to Danny, who is intrigued by Noble's exotic job and lifestyle.
Noble, however, is lacking in social skills. He constantly irritates Danny with his social ineptitude, borne of a life of solitude, but somehow remains charming and endearing. Somehow, Danny becomes Noble's only friend. Noble, although a deadly killer, is also quite vulnerable, but is seemingly incapable of telling the truth. Danny is equally engaging as a desperate businessman who finds his own life a bit boring and is fascinated by the assassin.
This strangely funny dark comedy takes another turn when Noble turns up at Danny's house and asks for his help to get out of a desperate situation. It is only then that the strange bond between these two men is revealed.
Brosnan delivers a stunning performance as a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He is able to walk the thin line between a psychopathic killer and a vulnerable man seeking a human connection and a life beyond his sordid dealings with the shadowy figures who control him. Kinnear, in yet another fine performance in an increasingly impressive body of work, hits just the right tone. He flawlessly portrays a desperate man willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. Later, he plays a man who is considerably more at ease with himself, but is willing to take a huge risk to help an old friend in desperate need. Hope Davis turns in another memorable performance as Danny's wife, who also has an unexpected side to her personality. The film also stars Philip Baker Hall of “In Good Company” as the mysterious Mr. Randy, and Dylan Baker of “Kinsey” as the equally mysterious character Lovell.
This offbeat dark comedy works pretty well for the most part, but it seemed to lack the sense of urgency and danger it should have had, given the nature of the story. The film also seems to depict its characters in a kind of emotional vacuum. Aside from a certain affection for Noble, I didn't get a sense of the film's connection to any of these characters. They all seemed to be trapped by the plot, rather than being revealed by it. This is part of the film's overall theme of manipulation. All the characters, Noble included, are being manipulated by outside influences. That idea extends to the director's manipulation of the characters and the audience. This seems a bit cold to me. I prefer more of a warmer, organic type of storytelling with a character-driven plot. This film rates a B.
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