It starts out like one of those jokes dads or uncles tell:
A hitman and an American salesman are sitting in a Mexican bar. The salesman turns to the hitman.
Looks like you can really use that drink.
The hitman takes a sip and answers.
Margaritas taste best in Mexico.
Yeah that’s true. Why is that?
The hitman gives the salesman a meaningful look and replies.
Just the way it is. Mexico makes things taste better — margaritas and cock.
Not quite the punchline you might have expected but then THE MATADOR isn’t exactly the movie you thought you were walking into either.
On paper, writer/director Richard Shepard’s wry killer thriller promises another by-the-book Hollywood delivery, with Pierce Brosnan as the debonair death-dealer and Greg Kinnear unfurling his classic grinning Midwest schmo. But like the above knee-slapper, THE MATADOR is a deliberate cock-up of the idiom.
Brosnan’s Julian Noble is a near complete inversion of the suave mavericks he usually plays and Kinnear’s milk-toast family man has a little too much pathos to be a simple caricature.
Though still something of a roué, Julian isn’t refined. He’s a brusque, liquor-soaked, whoring distortion of the stereotype — more Harry Palmer than James Bond.
Kinnear’s Danny Wright is as “ah shucks” as you might expect but his glibness is tinged with the dangling threat of financial ruin and the echo of personal tragedy.
The unlikely pair’s collision over drinks, far from leading to the expected one-liners, resolves into a fairly delicate exploration of character .
Of course people die. Necessarily. Brosnan’s “facilitator of fatalities” demands it. But these stabs of bloodiness are handled as unconventionally as everything else in the film.
Somewhere between Julian’s playful matter-of-factness and Danny’s genuine appreciation for this renegade, the killings become almost dismissible. But not quite.
As Julian tells his new drinking companion.
“Just because we share a laugh doesn’t mean I’m not unsavoury.”