In The Matador, Pierce Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a professional assassin dealing with the mental turmoil that comes with a life of killing. While on a job in Mexico he meets Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a pleasant and unassuming business man dealing with the prospect of upcoming economic and marital crisis. The two meet over some drinks and forge an unlikely friendship based on mutual interest in the other’s very different lifestyle. The film legitimizes its gimmicky plot by creating two very real characters who deal with real emotional problems. Death is given great credence and professional killing is not just an artifice but a central theme and ongoing motif. Some of the dialogue is silly and there are moments of fantasy and whimsy but the film never becomes whacky. The characters ground the film with sympathy through the emotional weight of their confessions. The script is brought to life by two actors who take their roles seriously and know how to deliver comedy without it feeling contrived. Brosnan impressively excises traces of James Bond despite playing a character not very far removed occupationally. Greg Kinnear seems to be one of the busiest actors around today turning in supporting roles in a number of diverse projects over the past few years without ever suffering from overexposure.
The dark nature of the film’s themes is counterbalanced by the colorful mise-en-scene that revels in bright backgrounds and sunny exteriors. The effective combination wards off gloom and over-sentimentality creating a consistently fun and engaging experience. This synthesis is similarly expressed in the music choices. The source music is primarily made up of peppy-sounding classic rock tracks that slyly feature meaningful lyrics accentuating the film’s mood. Examples include The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” and Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” is a bit of a stretch but by the time it appears in the movie, the inclusion of the upbeat crowd-pleasing 80s relic is irresistible. The original score is also very successful at leveling the film’s mood, giving just the right amount of sincerity and somberness to the heavier scenes. Composer Rolfe Kent has established himself as one of the best in the business when it comes to comedic scores with his recent work in the offbeat Sideways and the more traditional Wedding Crashers. Special attention should also be given to the music editor who morphs a mildly annoying Killers song into a poignant ode to friendship in time of need, making it the perfect choice for the story’s closing song.