I have never once seen the television show Remington Steele or any recent James Bond feature -- two roles that defined Pierce Brosnan's career in the '80s and '90s, respectively. But I've enjoyed his string of supporting roles, where he excels at playing charming but shifty sorts.
Certainly, this is not a man you call for heavy drama, and a few of his action roles (Brosnan vs. the volcano in Dante's Peak!) have veered into deliciously bad. Still, he's not above spoofing his good looks and employing his comic charms (after all, he played the pipe-smoking head of a Chihuahua in Mars Attacks). Thus, while other critics may have expressed delighted surprise at Brosnan's turn as a rakish but somewhat dissolute hitman in Richard Shepard's offbeat buddy comedy The Matador, I already knew this was role the recently fired Bond man had been meant to play all along.
Brosnan is Julian Noble, a "facilitator of fatalities," who is in Mexico on assignment. Late one night at the hotel bar, he strikes up meaningless bar talk with Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a nice but dull briefcase-toter from Colorado. The two become buddies of the moment, yet they share a deeper, if unspoken, bond: Each is a middle-aged man at a crisis point. Danny's in Mexico to seal a make-or-break business deal and is still hurting from the loss of his only child; Julian is the former golden boy of facilitating who's become bored and increasingly sloppy, drowning his sorrows in carousing. Danny finds the brash Euro-trash Julian exciting (whether he is a real hitman or just a superior bullshit artist) and, likewise, Julian is energized by Danny's wide-eyed interest.
The middle of Shepard's film is a real bon-bon, as Julian leads Danny through a simulated assassination at a bullfight. Yes, Shepard -- who also wrote the script -- uses an easy metaphor about teasing, killing and masculine honor (and did you note the surnames of Noble and Wright?). But his adept use of location and the perfect yin-yang chemistry of Brosnan and Kinnear make this bit of macho fantasy set in a grubby corrida de toros a perfect success.
The final third of the film finds Julian on unfamiliar turf as he pays a stateside visit to Danny and his wife, Bean (the wonderful Hope Davis, in another of her deceptive plain-Jane roles). Undaunted by the Wrights' humble domesticity, Julian makes an easy conquest of the pair; a fresh bull is brought into the ring and the ritualized dance-cum-kill begins anew. At the end, I wasn't sure that the mechanics of the plot had held up totally through the final reel, but with actors like this on board, and all that unleashed bad-boy Brosnan charm, I didn't much care.