Pierce Brosnan shows there’s life after Bond in “The Matador,” a kind of “Tarantino-light” buddy film about a hit man and a businessman who fall on hard times
The plot twists and turns, becoming unbelievable until writer-director Richard Shepard doubles back to fill in some blanks.
Julian Noble (Brosnan) is a “facilitator,” hired to eliminate the competition. He travels the world, has no place to call home, drinks too much and enjoys the company of beautiful and much younger women. His age is beginning to catch up with him. You’d think he could afford to retire, but his “handler” (Philip Baker Hall) is able to keep him in line with, “You take a break, we go with a younger, cheaper kid.”
Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) is a businessman what business doesn’t matter who’s yet to recover from being laid off two-and-a-half years earlier. He’s been married for 14 years to his high school sweetheart, “Bean” (Hope Davis), but their only child died in an accident three years ago, the start of Danny’s run of bad luck.
They don’t meet on the flight from Denver Julian’s in first class but they do in the hotel bar in Mexico City. Danny’s nervously awaiting the results of a pitch that may get him back in the game while Julian’s drunk enough to uncharacteristically reach out to another person. It’s not a gay pickup, but Julian says a lot of things (e.g., “Margaritas and cock taste better in Mexico”) that make him sound at least bisexual.
The next day, at Julian’s insistence, they attend a bullfight together. The movie makes a point of not showing animals or humans being killed, even though that’s what it’s about, and spends a lot of time alluding to “respect” and “honor” in activities that seem divorced from both. There, in an amazing sequence, Julian gives Danny an introduction to what he does and how he does it.
Six months later, Julian surprises Danny and Bean at home and they catch up on old times, but with some blanks to be filled in later. It seems Julian finally has a chance to retire but he’s in a kill-or-be-killed situation and he needs help from Danny, “the only friend I have.” At this point, if not earlier, “The Matador” turns into an edgier, more serious version of “The In-Laws.”
Filmmaker Shepard is never as hardcore as Tarantino. There’s some marshmallow at the core of “The Matador,” but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film has flavors you won’t find in S’mores.