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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006 07:24 pm

A killer friendship

The Matador offers is a well-written, fully realized relationship between two guys

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You can tell that Pierce Brosnan in having fun in The Matador, the smart new dark comedy from writer/director Richard Shepard. Best known for his James Bond roles, Brosnan gleefully dismantles his suave screen persona as Julian Noble, a burned-out assassin who carouses with hookers, tries to pick up teenage girls, and drinks himself into oblivion as he contemplates a life of utter loneliness. Shepard sends the film off with a bang as Julian travels the globe, dispatching his victims with cold efficiency. But when he’s wished a happy birthday by his handler (Philip Baker Hall), he begins to take stock of his life. Despondent, he realizes that he’s yet to make a single worthwhile human connection in his lifetime and goes out on a bender. He ends up in a Mexico City hotel bar, where he meets Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a modest Denver businessman in town to snag an important client. The two casually strike up a conversation; the next day, Julian treats Danny to a bullfight and tells him what he does for a living. The relationship that forms between these two is initially tenuous at best. Danny is intrigued by Julian, but he knows that he shouldn’t trust him. Although he tells his wife, Bean (the wonderful Hope Davis), that “for an assassin, he’s very nice,” he’s still wary, especially when Julian winds up on Danny and Bean’s Denver doorstep late one snowy night. Julian sees Danny as a model of normalcy and innocence he can never hope to be. Everything old becomes new again through Danny’s eyes, and Julian responds to this, as well as to the notion that he may actually be forming a friendship. Brosnan does an exceptional job here, showing his range. Yes, he’s got the macho swagger down, but he’s also adept at light comedy and pathos, knowing instinctively how to finesse a scene that requires both. Kinnear is a worthy foil for him, bringing to life Danny’s sense of dread and excitement without ever being too obvious or over the top. This sort of “normal guy” role is an easy one to miscalculate but Kinnear has it down pat, as does Davis, who has a wonderful scene in which she recounts the tough times she’s been through and the strength she’s gained from her husband to survive them. I’d hesitate to call The Matador a great film, but it certainly is a fun one. And it offers the rarest of things: a well-written, fully realized relationship between two men. You know that these guys would kill for each other and you hope you never have the misfortune of ever ending up in their crosshairs.

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