Every so often you walk out of a movie realizing that you didn't exactly witness greatness, but you aren't ready to ask for your money back. Richard Shepard's The Matador is just a lot of fun. It isn't overwhelming, it isn't a non-stop laugh riot, but it's endearing and above all entertaining. It's a diversion, something to take you out of the every day world and put you in another one, or in this case all around the world. I would call it escapist entertainment, and it is done without a load of green screens and without any special effects to speak of.
The film has at it's core one hell of a performance. That performance is from Pierce Brosnan, who never remotely hinted at this type of potential in his other roles. He's bored of Bond, and not surprising that he would jump at this one. He can be smooth, pathetic, manipulative, but always likeable. Even at his worst which he often is, you pull for this guy. Brosnan stumbles around drunk, dazed, but at his core terribly lonely. Sure these mercenary killers are loners, but rarely do we really get to see how removed they are from society, Julian doesn't even have a home at all, simply living one job to the next. Not surprising to get a little burnt out after 22 years of it.
Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis do fine work in their largely supporting roles. You get the feeling that they do love each other, and each of them has a sweet side that you also want to pull for. Yet this isn't your typical odd couple film were the crazy eccentric bad guy makes the straight good guy "live a little". Instead, Kinnear very much remains the man he was, but with a slightly better streak of luck. No doubt his meeting with Julian changed him, but not in a boring conventional Hollywood way. Likewise I can't say that Julian's meeting Danny helped him much. Sure he profited by it, and maybe now he has one person he can truly call a friend, but as a character Julian is every bit the manipulative charming assassin out for self preservation. You can never take anything he says too seriously, and that's what keeps you on your toes.
This isn't a film that tries to shock you with twists and turns. There are a few moments, but you stop and say "oh that's it". Not as a let down, but to say that it isn't what this film is about. Some movies try to make themselves based on plot twists, perhaps the Matador might be a better film with more revelatory circumstances, but it would be a different film altogether, and it would lose that laid back charm that it has. The film is light and easy, just like Julian, and that is for me the appropriate tone. I may be stepping over the line here but I think that Pierce Brosnan deserves an Oscar for his work here, and the sad thing is he won't even get a nomination. For a lead actor, I have found his performance here to be the best I've seen of any 2005 film, and that may be a bold statement. Perhaps it is because all the other Academy front runners got too much publicity, but I think that humor can go a long way. Brosnan isn't playing a famous person, but a character that we wouldn't have expected from him. It's a stretch and it works. His meltdown at the race track is just as moving as anything from Brokeback Mountain or Capote, and at least this film is much more light so you don't have the overburden of seeing suffering disguised as "art".