Another hitman comedy that stands up nicely to the ones seen in recent years ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith", "Grosse Pointe Blank"), "The Matador" stars a shabby Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble, a worn-out hitman who wakes up and begins to take a look at his life on his latest birthday. While he wants to take a break, he's worried that one vacation will get him replaced.
Early on, Julian finds himself setting next to Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) at a bar in Mexico City. The two become quick buddies, chatting away about their lives over drinks, with Danny (who recently lost his son, whose career is in the dumps and whose marriage is close behind) not being any wiser about what his new friend does for a living.
Soon after, Noble decides to invite Danny - a nice, bland everyguy - to a bullfight, where he proceeds not only to tell him what he does for a living, but to actually show Danny how the business works in something of a rehearsal. Julian, in his own way, is lonely and just trying to make a friend. Danny, on the other hand, is fascinated and then a bit horrified by the presentation.
The two go their separate ways and think they'll never see each other again. However, cut to months later, when Julian turns up on Danny's doorstep, telling him that he's arrived after having a nervous breakdown and may be in trouble - and that Danny's his only friend. To say anything more would ruin the film's surprises.
Brosnan, who, once again, should have never been dropped as Bond if he didn't choose to leave the part - turns in a terrific performance as Noble, constantly looking hungover, but constantly acting as if he doesn't care what anyone thinks. Brosnan and Kinnear make a surprisingly good buddy team and play off each other better than I would have thought, as Kinnear manages to play the everyguy without making it bland. Supporting performances from Davis and Phillip Baker Hall (as Julian's handler) are terrific, as well.
"Matador" works as well as it does thanks to the performances, but also due to fine writing and direction from Richard Shepard, who offers up some very funny lines and handles the tone well, balancing the comedy with a bit of drama here-and-there. Despite similar movies in the past, "Matador" certainly has a few twists. The ending seemed rather abrupt and the humor has a few off moments, but "Matador" is largely entertaining and Kinnear and Brosnan form an unexpectedly good buddy team.
VIDEO: "The Matador" is presented by Genius Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Aside from a few minor issues on occasion, the picture quality was largely stellar. Sharpness and detail were terrific, with only a couple of slight moments that seemed softer than the rest.
As for concerns, some minor edge enhancement appeared and a couple of minor artifacts were seen. Otherwise, the picture looked consistently clean and clear, with no print flaws or other problems. Colors remained bright and vibrant, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: "The Matador" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio suprised me, as although the movie is mostly dialogue-driven, there are some moments where sound effects come with a surprising amount of deep bass behind them. Music also sounded crisp, clear and punchy throughout. Surrounds didn't kick in often, but they certainly were employed when the material called for it. Dialogue sounded natural, as well.
EXTRAS: Writer/director Richard Shepard offers an audio commentary of his own and he's joined on an additional audio commentary by actors Greg Kinnear and Pierce Brosnan. The director's commentary provides some good information, as Shepard discusses working with a low budget, working with the actors, trying to do things simply and quickly, locations and stories from the set. The second commentary is more for fun, as the two actors joke and chat about their time on-set while the three chat about their feelings on the final product.
Additionally, we get a brief 7-minute "making of" documentary, 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary from Shepard, two radio interviews with Shepard, the trailer and a TV spot.
Final Thoughts: It's the first movie I've seen in a while that feels too short: "The Matador" has a couple of moments where the humor misses, but the film is carried quite well by the unexpectedly good match-up of Brosnan and Kinnear. The DVD offers solid audio/video quality, along with a nice set of supplements. It's a definite rental recommendation.