THE TAILOR OF PANAMA
Director: John Boorman
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine McCormack, Harold Pinter
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexuality, language and some violence)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 3/30/01
Buy Related Products
Review by Mark Dujsik
How ironic that the man who now plays James Bond is cast in another spy film in which there is no actual espionage. There’s a lot of pretending; in fact, the British agent in the movie tells the title character, "It’s a game." That the tailor, or anyone for that matter, believes him is his ultimate fault. And that’s essentially the thrust of The Tailor of Panama, the film adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel—a series of lies and deceptions. The film effectively mixes political intrigue, a string of deceptions, and smart satire against the backdrop of the tropical and corrupt Central American country. Calling it an anti-spy-movie wouldn’t be too far off, and that’s essentially where my appreciation for it lies. This is a movie for people who don’t mind having their expectations played with, and who prefer wordplay over gunplay.
"Welcome to Panama. Casablanca without heroes," Harold Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), the tailor, tells Andrew Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), the British operative, as they drive through the streets. It’s a country relieved of the corrupt dictator Noriega but still thriving in his trade—drug trafficking. "They got Ali Babba, but they missed the forty thieves," Harry muses. The film is kind enough to give some political background for the story. Noriega was placed by George Bush (Sr.) and later was removed from power. In the process, local opposition to the dictator was accidentally bombed, and now, without a major target and the disguise of democracy and integrity, there’s no purpose to fighting against the corruption that is still readily apparent.
Andy is simply there to keep the interests of the British government, namely the Panama Canal, under surveillance. He is a disgraced agent, and this assignment is his punishment. Upon arrival, Andy sets out to find Harry. A tailor would not seem the most likely candidate for espionage work, but because he is considered the best tailor in Panama, he has great connections. Andy also holds damaging information over his head: Harry is actually an ex-con—information no one in Panama, including Harry’s wife Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), knows. To satiate Andy’s need for information, Harry begins making up stories about a so-called "silent opposition." He tells Andy that two old acquaintances of his are the ring-leaders. Mickie (Brendan Gleeson) and Marta (Leonor Varela) where involved in the fight against Noriega, but now he is a drunk and she is disfigured after an attack by Noriega’s men.
In selling out his friends, Harry may not seems a sympathetic character. However, the only reason he does this is to get himself out of debt and, along the way, help his old friends and family. Harry is a dreamer, which we can tell from an impassioned monologue about why his customers should buy his suit instead of one from an Armani store down the street. He cares for his family, acting mostly as homemaker for his wife and two children. Rush plays him as a man always looking for a way out, an observant man who convinces Andy that the president will sell the canal to the Chinese and Japanese simply by noticing the cast in a porno movie in the background. Andy, on the other hand, is an opportunist, doing anything to get what he wants. He’s sleazy, seducing women for the simple means of having another ally. He even attempts to seduce Harry’s wife, and in a lesser movie, she may have gone for it, simply to create conflict. But this is a smarter film, and her actions make her character more defined. Brosnan is cast completely against type here, and the results are great.
Politics do play a big role in the film, and it’s not just the character’s desire for what they want. As Harry’s scheme unfolds, people in powerful position begin to believe his stories, and it makes for some very subversive humor. Eventually, it’s only the people with the most power who have no clue as to what’s going on, and yet these people are so intent on their own interests that they are willing to be fooled. Because of these turns, the tone of the film becomes intriguing. It takes its characters seriously but allows for tongue-in-cheek satire to develop from their actions.
I admit, the movie is at times confusing. Eventually everything is cleared up, and you can tell who had deceived who and why. I enjoyed the humor and the emphasis on character and story, but I was only involved on an intellectual level. Perhaps the film is attempting too much, or perhaps the elements are not developed to their fullest extent. Either way, my appreciation never went anywhere beyond an objective admiration.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.