I decided to use this poster I found on Google instead of the actual DVD cover art because while the film may have been sold as an action flick, the art you see at left sums up the film in an infinitely superior fashion. Make no mistake about it, The Matador is about as far from a James Bond flick as one can get. If anything, the film is about two men from completely different worlds, yet both are hanging onto the edge of a cliff by their fingernails.
When they run into one another in Mexico while both are on different business trips, they sort of circle each other in an awkward courtship. One is little more than a cypher for the other though, and your enjoyment of the film depends on a willingness to accept how certain details are either left out completely or told directly to one character by another character. It seems like an odd thing to harp on, but whenever I write something I prefer to think of how important details can come out in natural conversation versus having Character A directly tell Character B "something of great historical significance to both parties" again and again. This isn't fatal to The Matador but it does happen frequently enough that you'll either be put off completely or you'll just run with it.
Greg Kinnear's character, Danny Wright, is south of the border trying to lock down a contract that will bring much needed stability to both he and his wife Bean (played by the wonderful and sadly underused Hope Davis) after a few years of seriously bad luck. They lost their son a few years prior and his death hangs over both their heads. Despite this tragedy they retain hope that the future will brighten, but they're not sure when.
The future for Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), on the other hand, is about as bleak as one can imagine. He's in his 50's with no home, no family, no friends, and he kills people for money one right after the other. He's been a professional his entire career but recently his razor-sharp edges have begun to fray. He's starting to crack and his work is suffering as a result.
I can imagine Brosnan cherry picking every filthy thing he ever wanted to see James Bond do then packing it into this one film because he just unleashes here. This is the kind of performance someone gives when they have nothing to lose, and knowing this was made around the time the Bond producers cut him loose seems to have set him free. Much has been made of him walking through a hotel lobby in nothing more than his underwear, boots and sunglasses, but my money says the money scene is in Budapest when he's banging a woman like a gong and her little dog attacks his leg. Brief though it is, it's a killer bit that Brosnan nails and I howled with laughter.
When Julian and Danny meet in Mexico and eventually wind up at a bullfight, Danny prods Julian into telling him what he does for a living. After some convincing, Julian finally opens up but this proves to be completely unexpected for both men in more ways than one. Danny thinks Julian is just BS'ing him and blows it off at first, but since Julian has never opened up to literally anyone he finds he can't shut up. The results are hilarious as Julian finally acts like a kid in a candy store walking Danny through all the things he does, and seeing Danny's utter terror is hysterically funny.
Kinnear and Brosnan have great chemistry together and while it's clearly Brosnan who has the winning role Kinnear does make the most of what little he has to work with. The role seems underwritten in favor of the Julian character, but that's not what will make or break the film for people. The Matador overall is just an odd film about two men each trying to save the other albeit inadvertantly. It's funny in parts, downright hilarious in its precise placement of Asia's song "Heat of the Moment," but overall feels strange. It's one of those films I'm glad I saw, if only for Brosnan's absolutely killer performance, but I don't think it's one I'll revisit any time soon.