Pierce Brosnan as an international man of mystery. Been there. Pierce Brosnan as a world-class thief. Done that. Pierce Brosnan as a depraved, smooth-operating “corporate” assassin? Okay, so it’s not much of a stretch, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a slam-bang revelation for the actor. As hit man Julian Noble in Richard Shepard’s highly satisfying “The Matador”, the former Bond, James Bond, screws, chews, and woos the scenery like its none of your business. In fact, he leaves the film smarting like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy’s left town, to quote his character. Oh yeah, the film’s pretty good too. But this is definitely Brosnan’s show all the way.
Brosnan’s Julian Noble is on assignment in Mexico City when he inadvertently meets American businessman/everyman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear, who turns in another typical Greg Kinnear performance, which is to say fine in its own nice-guy, sit-commy kind of way). In one of the film’s highlight scenes, the two hit it off, kind of, after a pricelessly awkward exchange in a bar. (Julian casually reveals to Danny that there are two things that always taste better in Mexico: margaritas… and c**k. Joking. Or is he?) It’s the perfect odd couple. Julian is the jaded, over-sexed (he likes ‘em young), badass hit man, sorry, assassin, who’s beginning to lose his edge. And when you’re an assassin, edge is all you got. Danny however, is Julian’s exact opposite, an improbably nice guy who happens to have fallen on some hard times. Sure, he’s got a loving wife, Bean (Hope Davis), and a swell suburban home. But he’s also recently lost a son in a tragic car accident and financially, he’s desperate. Should it pan out, the trip to Mexico City represents a golden business opportunity for Danny’s struggling firm. It could literally mean the difference between hitting the jackpot and utter financial ruin.
Julian’s colossal weirdness (he’ll paint his toenails on a whim, walk through a hotel lobby in a black Speedo and cowboy boots, etc.) naturally unnerves Danny. While Danny, on the other hand, represents to Julian the everyman he long ago rejected, a decision (if there ever was one) he’s clearly starting to regret. When Danny’s golden opportunity looks to soon turn sour, he starts to ponder the once unthinkable: to have Julian, his new pal and “confidant”, “facilitate the fatality” of his Mexican competition. Flash forward six months: Julian’s in worse shape, getting sloppy with work and yearning for an assassin’s retirement home, while Danny’s life appears firmly back on track (he got the big job)… until Julian shows up at his door one day (Surprise!), that is. (If you’ve read David Bowker’s splendid “I Love My Smith and Wesson”, you may experience a little déjà vu here.) Things take a decidedly weird turn after that and lots of sticky questions begin to surface, like Did Danny have Julian off his competition back in Mexico City? What is the real meaning of Julian’s unexpected visit? Is Danny Julian’s next (and last) job? The answers aren’t as obvious as you might fear and “The Matador” plays them out in smart, surprising ways.
“The Matador” has that shiny sheen that quickly fades, yet is still fun while it lasts. Yes, this is basically a buddy picture, but one with a fresh, vaguely deviant sensibility. Writer/director Richard Shepard mostly avoids the buddy picture trappings with his focused direction and engaging screenplay. By the end credits, you may even find yourself feeling for this troubled hit man and his more domesticated buddy. The film also has a really great look, courtesy of D.P. David “Second Star Wars Trilogy” Tattersall. Bold colors and striking camera work perfectly compliment the film’s in-your-face attitude. Above all that however, it’s Brosnan’s refreshingly bold performance, probably his finest, that really makes this picture seethe and breathe with such nasty abandon. At this point in his career, he could easily call it a day and go down as a pretty decent Bond and an occasionally good leading man. Instead he chooses the role of Julian Noble and blows us all away. Props to him for that.