THE MATADOR Rating: *** DIRECTED BY Richard Shepard STARS Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear
If someone were to greet James Bond by stating, "You look good," the answer would doubtless be something on the order of "Why, thank you" or "That's true." But not in The Matador. Here, the reply is bitter and blunt: "I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy's left town."
OK, so it's not actually Agent 007 who utters this sharp retort, but coming from the lips of Pierce Brosnan, it's the next best thing. Brosnan, generally an underrated actor anyway, is nothing short of sensational in this black comedy about another character who's been given a "licence to kill." Brosnan stars as Julian Noble, a career assassin whose life exists on a never-ending loop of getting drunk, getting laid and getting his target. Burning out at a rapid clip, he opens up to a businessman he meets in a bar in Mexico City. Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) is pretty much the complete opposite of Julian Noble, so much so that he initially doesn't even believe Julian's a hired killer. Danny eventually learns a lot from his new buddy, but will this strange relationship prove to be a blessing or a burden?
The Matador might be distasteful in concept but not in execution, thanks to writer-director Richard Shepard's understated approach (the R rating is for language, not violence) and the audience surrogates provided by Kinnear and Hope Davis (as his wife). But Brosnan is performing his own high-wire act here, daring us not to like his sleazy, vulgar, insensitive, immoral character. As a human being, Julian's not much, but as a movie character, he's a keeper.