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An on-form Pierce Brosnan comprehensively sheds his suave James Bond image and restores some faith in his career after a run of post-007 duds, with his comic turn as a watery-eyed hit-man on the verge of a nervous breakdown in The Matador. Brosnan plays Julian Noble, an alcoholic, wholly unreliable international assassin who is beginning to lose the run of himself.

While completing a mission in Mexico City he meets Danny (Greg Kinnear); a straight-laced, mildly successful businessman and suburbanite with a loving wife (Hope Davis), an SUV and even a white picket fence. They share a drink and a late-night conversation at a hotel bar. The next day, while at the bull fights, the lonely but charismatic Julian tells Danny what he does, and how he does it. Rather than freak out and run, Danny listens and talks to his desperate new friend, a lonely man who confesses, “I don't live anywhere” and has lost whatever social skills he once possessed. If Julian needs a friend, Danny needs some distraction from an equally grim financial situation. He is in Mexico to sign a last-ditch deal to save his fledgling company.

Six months later, back in Denver, the doorbell goes. Danny and his wife Bean (Hope Davis) have a visitor, the hitman, still falling to bits and telling the surprised businessman, something that most likely the truth, “You are my only friend in the world”. Having moved in, charmed Bean with flashes of his deadly charm and allowed himself to be cared for, Julian and Danny together attempt to fix his overwhelming problems, not least of which is that his former employers might be trying to eliminate him.

Brosnan is terrific, and it's hard for me to say that. I've seen Evelyn, Laws of Attraction and After The Sunset. I know exactly how bad a bad actor he can be. Here, though, he's brilliant, carrying the whole movie with deliciously ambiguous turn as the dangerous, unpredictable Julian. Witty and brave, with a scraggy beard and a vulpine smile, it’s a performance as surprising as it is entertaining. Kinnear and Davis as the married couple share a fun chemistry and a wholly believable relationship, thankfully never threatened by Julian’s unexpected arrival.

A delicate character study that manages to incorporate a buddy comedy, a clichéd thriller plot, elements of black comedy, exotic location shooting and slick action sequences, The Matador is clearly trying to do everything. In attempting the impossible, debutant director Richard Sheperd unsurprisingly misses some of his targets. Nevertheless, with interesting, offbeat characters spouting lively, original dialogue and a complicated but slow-burning plot, The Matador economically creates more than a few resonant moments and some fine jokes.

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