Pierce Brosnan’s sleazy, broken-spirited hitman Julian Noble nabs the spotlight in Richard Shepard’s generally pleasing comic thriller, The Matador. When hardluck American businessman Danny (Kinnear) chances on Julian in a Mexico City hotel bar, the hitman is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. All the boozing and whoring in the world can’t settle Julian’s shaky trigger finger, but, in his budding friendship with the straight-laced Danny, he finally finds solidarity with another human being. To be fair, both these guys are on the edge: Julian needs a break from his mercenary assignments but his “handler” (Hall) won’t hear of it; Danny is on a losing streak too and can’t fathom the possibility of his latest pitch in Mexico City going down the drain, fearing it may mean the end of his marriage to high-school sweetheart, Carolyn (Davis). What happens between them in Mexico City comes back to haunt Danny back in Denver months later when a desperate, on-the-lam Julian calls on him, anxious for one last hit before disappearing.
From top to bottom, this is a Brosnan showcase, and the barbed one-liners and zingers in Shepard all come courtesy of Julian’s debauched and hard-bitten persona. The performances from Brosnan, Kinnear, and Davis are wonderfully counterpointed, with the morally flummoxed Danny, as played by Kinnear, providing just the right comic yin to Julian’s ever-scheming yang. Davis comes off most naturally as a housewife roughened by by middle-class blues and personal tragedy but still able to fantasize about adventure and escape. For these reasons, I forgive the rather dull-toothed approach to the material; when Shepard should’ve aimed for subversion and ruthlessness, he opts for the feel-good and the warm hearted. Still, take The Matador for what it is: a gleeful opportunity for Brosnan to invert and skewer his Bond image (the coy references to his star-making role are all chuckle worthy) and take on his worthiest post-Bond role yet.
Directed by: Richard Shepard
Written by: Richard Shepard
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall