Cinema Signal:

The Company You Keep:
The Transforming Power Of Male Friendship


. "The Matador"

Writer-director Richard Shephard combines an aging hitman drama (like "Memory of a Killer") with the teacher-student male bonding of "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" into a vehicle that brings out the best in both guys in his cast. Greg Kinnear has never been better suited to a role and Pierce Brosnan... well, he's different. And that's a bit of deserved praise.

Julian Noble (Brosnan) is a professional assassin who gets his jobs from the mysterious Mr. Randy (Philip Baker Hall) when they meet in nondescript public places. Noble is a smooth, dependable killer who removes people in his employer's way with no questions asked. He operates everywhere on the globe and lives nowhere. Besides his weapons and (great) wardrobe, he has no possessions. So what's the problem?

The problem is himself. He's losing it. The edge. The drive. Something is causing him to freeze at the trigger, as though he can't do it any more. He's distraught, seeks comfort in the Margarita, at the bar. Enter Danny Wright (Kinnear) who just happens to be sitting at one, one night.

Danny is a down-on-his-luck entrepreneur who is in Mexico City seeking a contract that will get his and his partner's business out of debt and back on track. After a meeting, feeling it went well, he's celebrating when this nicely dressed but slightly wierd single guy makes conversation that goes from friendly to insulting. Instead of sympathizing with Wright's trust in telling about the loss of his son, Julian launches into a gross joke.

The slickness with which Julian later explains his bad conduct, that he can't face anything emotional about children because of his own loss, a story that's as convincing as it is false, telling us that we're dealing with a charming con man. Danny, however, latches on to Julian's main story line and agrees to accompany him to a bull fight. There, Julian tells him what he really does for a living and, in order to convince him, demonstrates his capabilities in a hilarious sequence.

Typically for Julian, it's all part of an elaborate scheme to secure Danny's help with a pending hit. The notion, however, is way beyond anything Danny could consider doing, despite his intrigue over Julian's skills and a growing admiration. The bond between them becomes even more cemented when Julian shows Danny extraordinary understanding after he receives bad news about his deal with the Mexicans.

Danny returns home to Denver and his loving wife Bean (Hope Davis) full of his story about his exploits with his new friend but dispirited about his company's prospects and fearful of her disappointment in him. But, after 10 years of marriage, these two retain all the physical and romantic zest of newlyweds and a business setback is no threat to their domestic bliss. Much later, the story about assassin Julian Noble is a grand tale. But it's not over.

In reality, the ironic connection had to have been when the man we know as the polished, articulate Bond found this material. Without doubt, the faulty, desperate hitman character satisfied the whimsy in Brosnan's soul if, for no other reason, than to destroy typecasting in one comedic stroke. For Shephard, it is a career resurrection, as well, following the loss of his agent and a stream of script rejections--according to his admissions at the Austin Film Festival where it won honors.

Good for all involved. Rarely does an ensemble cast of such limited numbers created such charm and entertainment derived from plot and character. Sometimes a great set of creative elements just find themselves and coalesce into something special.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Pierce Brosnan
Even hitmen have breakdowns
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