It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I walked into "The Matador" expecting one film, and saw another. On paper, this sounds like a formula thriller, and the casting seems to confirm that: Pierce Brosnan as a hit man, and Greg Kinnear as a businessman who meets him in a hotel bar. But Brosnan redefines "hit man" in the best performance of his career ("I facilitate fatalities"), and Kinnear plays with, and against, his image as a regular kinda guy. By the time Hope Davis, Kinnear's wife, meets this killer her husband has told her so much about, she has her first question ready: "Did you bring your gun?"
The movie has a plot in which I suppose it matters who gets whacked, and why, but it's essentially a character study, in which Brosnan, Kinnear and Davis are invited to riff on the kinds of characters they often play -- maybe even get even with them. Every actor who has ever played James Bond spends years reading about how his latest role helps him to "shed the Bond image," but Brosnan appears in "Matador" with his character so firmly in place that no shedding, molting or other divestment is necessary.
Julian Noble (Brosnan) and Danny Wright (Kinnear) meet in the middle of the night in the hypermodern bar of a Mexico City hotel so sterile it makes the facilities in "Lost in Translation" look funky. During a moment of alcoholic truth, Mr. Wright shares with Mr. Noble the story of the death of his infant son. Julian counters with a dirty joke. Danny is insulted, and walks out. But the next day they begin again after Danny demands, and receives, an apology.
Julian Noble's awkward joke is a defining moment in the movie, establishing him as a man cut off from all others, a man who confesses "I don't live anywhere," a man wandering lost through booze and hookers, a man afraid of losing the skills that make him a useful hit man. He has lost the ability to carry on an appropriate conversation, and when Danny Wright is willing to listen to him, simply listen, he becomes grateful and they become friends.