The Tailor of Panama

      Deceit is a theme that runs through the novels of author John le Carré
and his sixteenth book,
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA was no different. The near
faithful screen adaptation, directed with finesse by John Boorman and
scripted by le Carré, Boorman and Andrew Davis captures the spirit of the
writer's novel. (The book, in turn, owed a debt to Graham Greene, P G
Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and, most unlikely, US President George H.W.
Bush whose "Operation Just Cause" - the invasion of Panama by American
forces - was a key plot point.)

      Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) is a British operative with slippery morals
who has landed in hot water not for his penchant for blackmail and bribery
but because he chose to bed the mistress of a British minister. As a
punishment, he is sent to Panama where he targets Harry Pendel
(Geoffrey Rush), the titular figure, a man who has taken his own exile
and used it as an opportunity to transform himself. As Osnard has discerned,
Pendel has rewritten his own history. An ex-con who was jailed for arson,
Pendel has positioned himself as a Saville Row tailor, creating suits for
people in the echelons of power. Now in debt because his farm is failing
and struggling to keep the truth from his American wife (Jamie Lee Curtis),
he is a prime target for Osnard's scheme. "Recruiting" Harry, the newly
arrived spy promises wealth in exchange for information. Spinning absurd
tales about a shadow government and the possibility of the sale of the
Panama Canal, he sets off a chain reaction that ends in tragedy for some
and in untold riches for others.

      Of course Brosnan is noted for his portrayal of James Bond, so his
casting as a spy may not seem much of a stretch, but Osnard is an amoral
character and the actor captures that side of the role quite well. Rush, who
on occasion can become hammy and overbearing (e.g.,
QUILLS), is perfectly
cast in the title part. Jamie Lee Curtis and Catherine McCormack (as a
British attaché) both inject a welcome dose of femininity as the women
in the lives of those two men. Brendan Gleeson as a drunken pal of Pendel's,
Leonor Varela as Pendel's devoted secretary and Harold Pinter as Pendel's
mentor (seen in fantasy sequences) all make notable contributions as
well. (For trivia buffs, Rush's son is played by Daniel Radcliffe, the young
boy who went on to play Harry Potter.)

      As a director, Boorman has always meticulously crafted a sense of
place, whether it be the South American jungles (
THE EMERALD FOREST),
Arthurian England (
EXCALIBUR) or WWII-era London (HOPE AND GLORY).
In this film, the sights and sounds of Panama are beautifully evoked, from
the crowded streets to the lush countryside. By showing just how one
person's little white lies can bring about an absurd situation, the movie's
makers provide a reminder of the power of words and how they can both
wound or heal depending on who hear them and how they interpret them.


                      Rating:                B+
                      MPAA Rating:        R for strong sexuality, language and
                                                        some violence
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.