The Matador is a heartbreaker. It is so very close to being a very good movie, and yet it falls just shy of the mark. Good intentions and earnest effort are evident everywhere, but ultimately the film is sabotaged by a lack of plot development.
The history of the film is a Hollywood Cinderella story of the type that fuels the dreams of thousands of small filmmakers. Independent small-budget writer/director Richard Shepard sent the script of the movie to a production company owned by Pierce Brosnan. He wanted to show them an example of a script so he could be hired as a writer. Instead, the office staff showed the script to Brosnan with a recommendation that he consider it as a starring role. Brosnan called Shepard and expressed interest in not only starring, but co-producing the film. Suddenly Shepard found himself putting together a big screen major release. They scrounged money from every source they could find (the pre-title production company credits go on forever, and IMDB lists seventeen producers). They scored Hope Davis and Greg Kinnear for the other two leads.
Shepard, on his enthusiastic commentary track, confesses that he knew nothing about shooting in widescreen and constantly learned tricks of the trade from his production crew. They shot for 40 days entirely in Mexico City (as a cost saving necessity). Taking the film to Sundance, they got bought up quickly by the Weinstein Company, which promoted it for major theatrical distribution. With favorable critical reviews and modest box office success (it just equaled its $12 million budget in box office revenues), it should do all right on video rentals, based mainly on Brosnan's name recognition and popularity.
The plot of the movie can be summarized quickly and easily. A professional assassin (Brosnan) is suffering a combination of midlife crisis and job burn-out. He meets a nondescript straightlaced suburban husband and small businessman (Kinnear) and forms a tenuous friendship — or at least an acquaintance. The two eventually find strength and support in the qualities of the other as they attempt to overcome their own insecurities and fears.
Much of the "buddy picture" aspect relies on a familiar juxtaposition of opposites. Kinnear is one of the "mass of men [who] lead lives of quiet desperation" with his faithful and supportive wife in their little Denver suburban home. Brosnan plays his assassin as a free-living and almost completely amoral iconoclast, doing what he likes to whomever he likes.
Getting Brosnan for the role (remember, it wasn't written for him) adds an automatic layer of fun to the part because of the audience's knowledge of the actor as Remington Steele and James Bond. Both of those characters exuded class and sophistication in their investigations and dealings with "bad guys." Brosnan's Julian Noble in The Matador is the antithesis of class. He wears gold chains and open-necked shirts, looking like a half-shaven lounge lizard. He picks up random women, hookers, and young girls. He is a slovenly drunk much of the time and laughs too loudly while telling vulgar jokes. Kinnear's Danny Wright is justifiably appalled by the man in short order.