Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) awakens to the sound of the clock radio alarm in yet another hotel room, with the young woman he spent the night with sleeping by his side. He lifts the sheet and examines her naked form, then notices the varnish on her toenails and decides he'd like some of that as well, so raids her handbag and applies a tasteful shade to his feet. Not the kind of behaviour you would expect from an international hitman which is how Julian makes his salary, but he is fast approaching his midlife crisis, and a businessman from Denver, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), might be just the chap to snap him out of it...
Pierce Brosnan produced The Matador as a vehicle for himself, and obviously as a move away from his most celebrated James Bond role. Although on closer examination, perhaps it was not all that far away, as if he was well aware of his limitations, for Julian is still a character who travels the world, beds beautiful women, and kills people for money. It's as if this is Bond as he would be hitting fifty, having reservations about an existence where he has lived hedonistically and parasitically, taking others' lives away to feed his own dubious entertaiments.
In contrast, Danny is a white collar worker who loves his wife Bean (Hope Davis) and is planning a big business deal that should see him find some security in his world, although as we see in his introductory scene, he is at the mercy of powers greater than his own when a bolt of lightning sends a tree crashing through his kitchen extension. Danny meets Julian on a trip to Mexico City where they both have a job to do, although Julian's is far more deadly than Danny's. Danny strikes up conversation at the bar, not knowing that the hitman is suffering a depression because it is his birthday today and he has no friends to celebrate it with.
They don't get off to a good start when, after breaking the ice, Danny admits to Julian that is and his wife are still getting over the death of their young son three years ago, to which the response is a dirty joke (which we never get the punchline of), sending Danny off insulted. Yet he has marked himself out as possible friend material, and soon they are both spending the day together, Danny worrying that his deal is about to fall through, Julian fretting about his next hit. The interesting thing about him is that while we can never be sure how truthful he is, one thing we are never in any doubt about is his capacity to kill, comparing himself to the matador of the title.
Brosnan, while apparently reluctant to settle on an accent, nevertheless employs his charm to a disreputable character with indulgently amusing effects, and Kinnear matches him with a neat portrayal of a pathetic in his own way ordinary Joe, making it through life while all too aware of how the safety net could be whipped away at any second. But while you do warm to these people, there's something immoral about director Richard Shepard's script which sees his leads literally get away with murder, and all for the sake of male friendship which is elevated to a pedestal, no matter what the influence on others. The Matador enjoys some wincingly funny dialogue, a nice line in ribaldry and a plot that keeps you guessing at where it will end up, and as a proving ground for Brosnan it showed he could carry a film away from Bond, but it finds emotional warmth in curious places you may not wish to accompany it to. Music by Rolfe Kent.