John Boorman's spirited adaptation of John Le Carre's 1996 novel, "The Tailor of Panama," is a stylish, sardonic addition to the spy genre. Pic has class to spare, with Pierce Brosnan toplining as a British agent with the superficial charm of 007 but lacking even a trace of moral scruples, and Geoffrey Rush giving another ace performance as a British resident of Panama who gets caught up in espionage. Columbia will have to position the film carefully in the marketplace, however, because this post-Cold War tale of intrigue and treachery is not an action-adventure but a film for adults who appreciate the wry humor and irony brought to it by Boorman and Le Carre (who co-scripted and exec produced). There should be sufficient audiences worldwide who will embrace this classy, articulate and richly humorous film to make it a mid-range box office success.
Casting of Brosnan, successful as it is, is something of a two-edged sword. On the plus side, the actor brings with him evocations of James Bond which, since he plays a much less successful and less scrupulous British agent, allows for plenty of insider humor. On the down side, audiences expecting a Bond-like adventure will be bitterly disappointed.
Prologue set in London establishes Brosnan's Andy Osnard as a disreputable but charming member of MI6 whose habits of seducing the wives and mistresses of British ambassadors and running up hefty gambling debts hasn't endeared him to his boss (David Hayman). He's banished to the backwater of Panama and told to check for money laundering and drug trafficking while serving out his time. As lazy as he is opportunistic, Osnard immediately decides to sub-contract one of the 200 resident British citizens to feed him the information he requires, and settles on snobbish Harry Pendel (Rush). Latter's upper-class tailor's shop, Braithwaite & Pendel, is a touch of Saville Row in the tropics, where anyone who is anyone in Panama gets their suits custom made, even if they don't always pay their bills.
Harry is happily married to Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), an American who works as assistant to the Panamanian director of the canal, and he's the father of two delightful children (his son is played by the future screen Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe). But he is not quite what he seems. Though he claims to have operated a tailor's establishment in London with his late partner, he in fact has never been anywhere near Saville Row, having learned the art of tailoring while in prison for arson.
Nevertheless, he has the skills and charm to impress the locals, providing his customers with the very best. ("That was Mr. Connery's choice," he notes, proudly, of a particular piece of cloth, one of the film's many in-jokes.)
But Harry is deeply in debt, his investment in a farm proving unwise. So when Osnard dangles the bait of large sums of money in exchange for information about the bankers, lawyers and political leaders of the country, he eagerly agrees to cooperate. Eventually, he starts inventing things to impress Osnard, claiming, quite falsely, that his friend Mickie (Brendan Gleeson) and his assistant, Marta (Leonor Varela), both former members of the anti-Noriega resistance, are still members of a revolutionary group known as the Silent Opposition.
This is duly reported, via Osnard, back to London, and inevitably the demand comes back for even more information. Harry now invents a plan by Panama's leaders to sell the Canal to the highest bidder, perhaps China. This revelation sets alarm bells ringing in London and Washington, with dramatic results.
In mood, "The Tailor of Panama" is reminiscent of the Graham Greene novels "The Quiet American" and, especially, "Our Man in Havana," both of which were filmed in the 1950s. The film is quite caustic in its attitude toward the British and American foreign policy makers, who, it suggests, are inherently suspicious that a small country like Panama can handle the responsibility of the vital canal, and don't need much pushing to decide to claim the waterway back.
Brosnan brings a rather steely charm to the role of the decidedly untrustworthy Osnard, who sets out to make as much money as possible for himself on the side and to seduce every woman who crosses his path. There's an underlying nastiness to the character that Brosnan subtly conveys. Rush is terrific as Harry, a dreamer who doesn't realize what effect his frantic efforts to earn money for his fantastic stories will have on his friends. Curtis is classy as Harry's loving but troubled wife, and Catherine McCormack is sultry as an embassy staffer who warms to Osnard's seductive charms. Brendan Gleeson, so good in the leading role in Boorman's previous film, "The General," is touching as the frequently drunken, burnt-out revolutionary Mickie. Supporting cast is fine down the line, with Harold Pinter appearing briefly but amusingly as Harry's late partner and still the voice of his conscience.
Pic is far more humorous than Le Carre's novel. In a stand-out scene, Osnard, seeking to have a private conversation away from prying eyes and possible bugs, forces Harry to dance with him in a gay bar to the music of Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Pic is also full of cinematic references, including a couple to "Casablanca" and even one to "The Full Monty." The ending of the novel has been modified and is now far more upbeat, but this doesn't seriously damage the film -- which isn't surprising, given the author's strong presence behind the scenes.
Boorman is in top form here, apparently reveling in the witty material. He has, as always, been well served by his technical crew. In Philippe Rousselot's third film with the director, the French d.p.'s widescreen photography evocatively explores the rarely used location of Panama with its famous bridge across the canal and its high-rise buildings, derisively referred to as "Laundromats" because many of them house the country's 85 banks. Interiors shot at Ardmore Studios in Ireland have been seamlessly integrated.
BERLIN -- Welcome to Panama, British spy Andy Osnard is told; it's " 'Casablanca' without heroes." This is indeed the case in John Boorman's film version of John le Carre's darkly comic novel about spies and befuddled ex-pats in Panama following the United States' return of the Canal to that country. And Boorman's grand joke of casting Pierce Brosnan, the screen's current James Bond, as Osnard, the sleaziest and most immoral operator in the British Secret Service, only underscores the film's tongue-in-cheek approach to the spy "game."
What might tax Columbia's marketing mavens and restrain acceptance by American audiences of Boorman's film is that the irony and wit are distinctly British. Le Carre -- who for the first time exec produces a film version of one of his novels -- said in an interview last week that the movie might flop in the States, but Europeans will love it. He could be dead right.
Americans love movie spies to be ruthless or far-fetched, but not the cads and cons on display here. Le Carre, of course, knows better.
The story is somewhat reminiscent of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana," wherein a mild-mannered vacuum salesman in Cuba becomes a British spy. Not knowing what to do, he forwards to London diagrams of vacuum cleaners, which he claims are plans for a new secret weapon.
But in Panama, it's a simple tailor the British recruit as an agent. Well, not so simple, actually -- a fact that will cause his downfall. For Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) has invented himself. Established in Panama, where he creates suits in the best Saville Row tradition for the country's elite, Harry has managed to marry an American engineer's daughter, Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), and create a comfortable life without anyone getting wise to his past.
He actually learned his craft in the slammer, doing time for an insurance scam for his uncle (Harold Pinter), who appears occasionally as a diaphanous Greek chorus that urges him in every crisis to dissemble. The uncle established Harry in Panama with his fake identity, which would have remained in place if Andy had never shown up.
Andy, a troublesome agent with problems ranging from gambling debts to women, has been posted to Panama for "his sins." Andy zeroes in on Harry as a British national likely to overhear things while measuring businessmen and government officials for suits.
In debt and about to lose his farm, Harry agrees to slip information to Andy, most of which he makes up. He claims that the Canal is about to be sold to foreign interests and that his best drinking buddy, Mickie (Brendan Gleeson), and his disfigured assistant, Marta (Leonor Varela), both former members of the anti-Noriega underground, are leaders of the "Silent Opposition." So silent is this opposition that neither London nor Washington has ever heard of it.
So while Andy conducts an affair with an embassy official (Catherine McCormack) and pulls the wool over the eyes of the ambassador (David Hayman) -- or does he? -- he decides to make a fortune off this dubious information. While he too is suspicious of the veracity of this Silent Opposition, if he can keep the rumors hot for a few more days, he will escape to Switzerland with cool millions.
Ah, how far all this is from Ian Fleming and, for that matter, the usual le Carre. While we appreciate this highly sophisticated spoof of the whole spy business -- one certainly allowed to le Carre after having probed its depths as no writer ever has -- it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for any of its characters or sympathize with their plight.
Those with integrity -- Mickie, Marta and Louisa -- are clueless, while the rest are so engaged in their own self-interests as to be caricatures rather than characters. Everything that happens in "Tailor" is, deliberately, a joke. A grand joke, perhaps, but how are we supposed to feel about the pain and, in one case, the suicide caused by these jokesters?
The real CasablancaCQ no quotes never had any heroes. (Indeed, it never was a port of exit for refugees as so fictionally portrayed in the Warner Bros. fantasy.) The same might hold true for Panama, but how odd to make a whole movie to declare this mundane fact. As with another Boorman foray into Third World exotica, "Beyond Rangoon," "Tailor" at times rings hallow.
Brosnan gets a chance to display a darker side that might literally make people squirm. He is despicable and attractive at the same moment, a truly memorable villainous protagonist. Rush again disappears into a totally different character whose layers of untruth peel away to reveal the good-natured but weak-willed individual underneath.
Curtis is underemployed, but Gleeson and Varela give the film its moral backbone with striking portraits of people struggling to find meaning in their lives after the revolution.
Technical credits are exceptional, especially Philippe Rousselot's camerawork in the high rises and squalid streets of Panama and Derek Wallace's atmospheric production design.
TURAN, LA Times Film Critic
"Entertainments" is the way celebrated British novelist Graham Greene described his clever, sophisticated diversions such as "The Third Man" and "Our Man in Havana," and John Boorman's spiffy film version of spymaster John le Carre's "The Tailor of Panama" is very much in that satisfying but often ignored tradition.
An amusing yet deeply and darkly cynical look at the endemic nature of corruption and venality in a world where the good are discomfited and evil flourishes, "Tailor" benefits from delicious acting from co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan, a mordant script co-written by le Carre (along with Boorman and Andrew Davies), and the distinctive touch of its director.
A man whose credits range from "Point Blank" and "'Deliverance" to "Hope and Glory" and the more recent "The General," Boorman never seems to approach his material quite the same way twice. In addition to the craft implicit in 35 years of directing, he brings intelligence, verve, a sense of fun and a clear lack of sentiment to material that benefits from all of the above.
More than being Greene-ish in spirit, "Tailor's" premise owes an acknowledged debt to "Our Man in Havana." Filmed by Carol Reed in 1960 with the unlikely combination of Alec Guinness and Ernie Kovacs, "Havana" features a mild English vacuum cleaner salesman named Wormold who becomes haphazardly enmeshed in espionage and supplies London with drawings of a new bomb that looks suspiciously like, well, a vacuum cleaner.
A lush, tropical locale just down the road from Cuba, "a wriggling little worm on the map with a canal across it," Panama is, as one character puts it, " 'Casablanca' without heroes," a place where no good deed goes unpunished and "a man who tells the truth is bound to be found out sooner or later."
This story's Wormold is a British tailor named Harry Pendel (Rush), happy both as the husband of the quintessentially American Louisa (a well-utilized Jamie Lee Curtis) and as the most celebrated tailor in Panama, the heir, he often says, to a proud Savile Row tradition. Once the man who dressed Gen. Manuel Noriega, Pendel not only believes but actually says such things as "for me, the changing room is as sacred as the confessional."
The fly in this particular tropical ointment is British spy Andy Osnard, smartly played, in a kind of amiable inside joke, by Brosnan as the anti-James Bond. A smug, profligate wastrel and the kind of ruthless seducer who always finds room in his swim trunks for a flask, Brosnan's Osnard fits le Carre's description of someone who "had no craft or qualification, no proven skill outside the golf course and the bedroom."
Osnard is in Panama because that uninviting land was the best his boss in British intelligence could do for him after a career distinguished only by gambling debts, blown covers and affairs with the wives and lovers of important men.
With his practiced eye for other people's weaknesses, Osnard focuses in on the connected tailor as his entre to the top levels of Panamanian society. For besides knowing a lot, Harry Pendel has both credit problems and a secret past that no one in the country, not even his wife, knows about. "You've got the debts, I've got the money," Osnard tells the tailor. "It's a game," he invitingly promises. "Let's have some fun."
* * *
One of the shrewdest notions of "Tailor" is that these two self-important, officious individuals are made for each other in a way neither one recognizes. If Pendel is blind to how down to his last inning Osnard is, the British spy has no idea what a compulsive mythologizer, romanticizer, even liar, his new contact is. "It was tailoring," the novel explains of Pendel's methodology. "It was improving on people. It was cutting and shaping them until they became understandable members of this internal universe."
So both men devote large amounts of time feeding each other misinformation, getting everyone they know, including Pendel's scarred associate Marta (Leonor Varela) and broken down ex-rebel Mickie Abraxas (an excellent and unrecognizable Brendan Gleeson), into a world of terrible trouble.
Strong as Brosnan is, Rush is more impressive for the ways he can make us sympathize with someone who is doing dreadful things. Immaculate and at his well-tailored ease in Tom Wolfe-ish three-piece ice cream suits, Rush's Pendel does his best work as he gets increasingly helpless, as he gradually comes to realize that mere duplicity is hardly a match for complete amorality.
Adept at putting both the physical Panama (Philippe Rousselot did the vivid location photography) and an involving psychological landscape on screen, director Boorman has made the creation of good dark fun his primary aim here. Greene, the master, would likely have been pleased.
GRIPPING, TENSE, WILDLY ENTERTAINING AND ALSO SURPRISINGLY FUNNY, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA SHOULD SUIT YOU, SIR...
The Tailor Of Panama is a fine example of how an old genre can be dusted down for a new audience. It's a complicated tale of deceit and dishonour with a human heart and an admittedly dull title. With the possible exceptions of Chris Eubank and my good self, who wants to see a film about tailors? But if you can get past the endearingly old-fashioned title, you'll find a bespoke treat.
Geoffrey Rush is the tailor of the title. To the wealthy of Panama he's Harry Pendel, a gents' outfitter with a Savile Row-training. In reality he's an ex-con who learned to tailor from his crooked uncle.
Pendel is doing pretty nicely. He's married with kids and has a thriving business, thanks in no small part to his ability to spin a yarn and turn a blind eye to the corruption around him. But the arrival of amoral MI6 operative Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) threatens Harry's carefully constructed fantasy world.
Andy pumps Harry for information on the fate of the canal, and Harry does what he always does when he feels inadequate - he lies. Very convincingly. But when those fictions begin to threaten the life of his friends, the stability of his family and even the future of Panama itself, Harry is forced to take stock.
Here the acting and the writing lift this spy tale out of the ordinary. Rush is superb as Pendel, a likeable and believable fool, who knows what he's doing even when he shouldn't be doing it. Brosnan clearly relishes the chance to play an anti-Bond. In fact, he's a more realistic Bond - an amoral, greedy, vain, self-centred, womanising thug and a thoroughly British kind of spy.
The ending might seem hard to believe, and Jamie Lee Curtis as Pendel's wife Louisa has too little to do, but overall it's an engrossing experience - gripping, tense and wildly entertaining, while also being surprisingly funny. If you like mature, rewarding films then this should suit you, sir.
THERE isn't a gadget to be seen as Pierce Brosnan embarks on a spy caper with a difference in The Tailor Of Panama. He's a suave and sophisticated secret agent up to his neck in mayhem and willing women. But this is miles away from the world of James Bond.
Pierce also does some stunts that would make Bond blush. Like holding meetings on a vibrating bed in a brothel and dancing cheek-to-cheek with a man in a gay bar.
But British agent Andy Osnard does share 007's love of exotic countries. Not that he has much choice. At the start of the film, the disgraced spy is being carpeted by his boss (David Hayman) for conduct unbecoming.
As a result, he's exiled to Panama, which is described as a "Casablanca without heroes". If Andy is to get out of this backwater, he'll have to come up with some juicy intelligence to impress London. So he goes looking for a local man with lots of high-society contacts, but a low profile. Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) seems to be his man.
Harry is a tailor who makes suits for Panama's top people. He has a beautiful wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and two lovely kids. And this movie gives us an early chance to see young Daniel Radcliffe, soon to be star of the forthcoming Harry Potter film.
some bad investments mean Harry's heavily in debt and the bank is ready
to call in a huge loan, so he agrees to slip information to Andy in
According to Harry, his scarred shop assistant, Marta (Leonor Varela), was a former member of an underground movement. And Harry's best friend - a shambling drunk called Mickie (Brendan Gleeson) - is its leader.
Together, they head up the "Silent Opposition". So silent is this opposition that neither London nor Washington have ever heard of it. But Harry's tall tales take on a life of their own and plunge him into a web of intrigue and lies.
The Tailor of Panama is a lively piece, only faltering a little near the end as Harry's imaginative stories spiral out of control into wild farce.
The humour is drier than a shaken martini and there's a lot of fun to be had in this witty, thought-provoking flick that turns the idea of the hero spy on its head.
As Harry, Geoffrey Rush is given an elegant introduction at the start of the film as he chalks and cuts out a suit at double speed.
But it's Pierce Brosnan who seems to be having a whale of a time, as the ultimate anti-Bond spy. He's still sexy, but underneath the handsome exterior beats the heart of a lying weasel. For those who thought Pierce had all the snap of a tailor's dummy, this film is a real eye-opener.
Playing against type is always a risky move - amoral Andy is not going to get to heaven unless someone has left the back door open. He cheats, he sneers at Harry's scarred assistant and almost rapes another woman.
You may never feel quite the same way about him as 007 again.
Stylishly cut spy satire with droll performances by Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey
PIERCE Brosnan plays a British spy in "The Tailor of Panama," but his Andy Osnard is the antithesis of 007 - and veteran director John Boorman eschews stunts and action for character study and dark satire.
based on a novel by
novelist John Le Carré, who acknowledged his huge debt to Graham
Greene's "Our Man in Havana," made into a fondly recalled film in 1960
starring Alec Guinness as a vacuum-cleaner salesman recruited as a
It's 1999 and his bosses - and everyone else - are nervous about the canal being turned over by the United States to Panama, a country one character describes as "'Casablanca' without heroes."
Andy sniffs out a likely mole in Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), expat Brit tailor to Panama's rich and famous.
Harry wants no part of the spy game, but he's very susceptible to blackmail - his beautiful American wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) has no clue Andy's an ex-convict who learned tailoring while doing time for arson.
Harry isn't actually privy to any secrets, so he desperately fabricates wild tales of a budding "silent" revolution - and a plot by Panama's rulers to sell the canal to the Chinese.
Andy's reports throw the British military and their American allies into a panicked and slowly escalating frenzy.
Rush, nicely underplaying, is even better than he was in "Quills" as Harry, who's oblivious to the chaos he's creating until it's too late.
But the real surprise is Brosnan, who delivers his best screen performance to date by sending up his Bond persona as the utterly amoral Andy - who at one point forces a mortified Harry to dance with him at a gay disco so they can talk without being monitored.
Curtis is good, even though her role amounts to something of an in-joke (she played a spy's wife in "True Lies") in a film that's full of them (like a line of dialogue about another actor known for playing Bond).
There are stylish supporting turns by Harold Pinter (as Harry's Uncle, whose ghost serves as a Greek chorus), Brendan Gleeson as a burned-out revolutionary who Harry hypes and newcomer Leonor Varela as Harry's assistant, who tries to warn him about the dangers of Panamanian politics.
There's even a glimpse of the new on-screen Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, briefly seen as Harry Pendel's son.
"The Tailor of Panama" loses some of its crease after a slow-speed chase near the end. But overall, it's a hand-tailored job in a marketplace filled with off-the-rack movies.
The Tailor of Panama is the best Bond movie in decades.
With The Tailor of Panama, Pierce Brosnan delivers the James Bond performance we've been waiting for since Sean Connery rode his toupée off into the Vegas sunset in Diamonds are Forever.
The film is a droll comedy of manners set in an exotic serpent's nest. "Welcome to Panama -- Casablanca without heroes" is how transplanted Savile Row tailor Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) describes his adopted homeland to British spy Andy Osnard (Brosnan), exiled to Panama in reward for a too-successful bit of undercover work with the boss's wife.
Brosnan plays Osnard as a stud bastard with a barely suppressed appetite for cruelty. In other words, he's doing a Connery-as-Bond impersonation. Brosnan is also this era's Bond, of course, and he clearly enjoys the chance to ditch the nuclear speedboats and restrict his spying to bedrooms and bars. While the Irish actor delivers a smoothly lecherous performance here, his image change allegedly alienated test audiences. Columbia delayed The Tailor of Panama after preview crowds blanched at scenes such as Osnard's confiding to Harry Pendel, "spying is dark and lonely work, like oral sex."
Filmmaker John Boorman (The General, Deliverance) is clearly in on Brosnan's Bond send-up, for he has allowed a scene where tailor Pendel endorses Brosnan's choice of a light, breathable silk suit by leaping to his toes and trilling, "Mr. Connery's choice, sir."
But it probably wasn't Brosnan's cheeky tribute to Connery so much as Boorman's decision to make a funny-sad meditation on human weakness that did The Tailor of Panama in with American test audiences. For the filmmaker has decided to remain faithful to John Le Carré's source novel, a work that is closer to Graham Greene's bittersweet espionage entertainments than Ian Fleming's more energetic kiss-and-crash spy stories.
Like the best-selling book on which it is based, The Tailor of Panama is an homage reprise of Greene's Our Man in Havana, the story of a burnt-out spy who decides to hell with it all and begins inventing top secret plans of a vacuum cleaner. Here, it's Harry Pendel who finally tires of Osnard's demands to dig up some dirt on his wealthy clients by inventing a lot of rubbish about a "Silent Opposition" to the reigning Panamanian dictator.
Harry spins a tale as well as he tailors suits. And his lies prove popular with Osnard's employers as well as the U.S. Secret Service. Even Panama's native strongman enjoys hearing about a possible uprising, for it gives him an excuse to dress up and play general again. Some kind of war seems imminent. Money starts flowing in and out of Panama as never before. Everybody is happy. Except Harry, the lone player in the spy-v.-spy drama who seems to understand the human cost of a grand military adventure.
The Tailor of Panama is an exceedingly well-scripted drama that offers a few sharp insights into the nature of institutional corruption. Better still, the film manages to make all of its points in a winning, darkly comical fashion. "C'mon, where's your patriotism?" Brosnan's Osnard asks Harry at one point, slapping him on the back. "I had it out in prison," the tailor spits back. "Without an anesthetic!"
Not that the film's American test audience's complaints were entirely unjustified. While the film offers great dialogue and a few rich characters, it's also loosely plotted and slow to get from one plot point to the next. Also, writer-director Boorman never manages to employ the film's three female leads, Harry's wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and former mistress (Leonor Varela), along with Osnard's spy girlfriend (Catherine McCormack) to the film's advantage. (After a while, we can't help suspecting the lone reason McCormack is around is to break Brosnan's fall when he tumbles into bed.)
Still, the film boasts two engrossing performances and a score of marvellously realized, if insecurely fastened scenes. Brosnan is a revelation, and Rush offers a poignant portrait of a master fabricator who becomes the victim of his own skill at tailoring reality. Though not a great film, The Tailor of Panama has enough great moments to make it worth seeing. If nothing else, it's the best Bond movie in decades. Rating three
Harry is a tailor obsessed with the integrity of a suit. An Old World anomaly of class and craftsmanship, suits mean something to him. The cut, fabric, fit -- they aren't just aesthetically pleasing drapes to frame a body, but also a statement concerning the rectitude of the entire human race. To him, men wouldn't get shot if they were wearing one of his suits -- they would have "too much dignity."
That tailor is Geoffrey Rush in one of his most bizarre yet appealing performances yet. Yes, he is the tailor of Panama, and what a tailor he is. After some shady customers threaten to go to Mr. Armani's for a suit, Harry bellows: "Someone has to stand up for integrity!" When a man enacts a dirty deed he snarls, "You're a disgrace to that suit!" And in all sincerity, he proclaims, "The changing room is as sacred as the confessional."
"The Tailor of Panama," based on the John Le Carre novel, was co-scripted by Le Carre himself, whose tailor winds up being more than just a quality freak but a duplicitous man of mystery. Well-dressed in white dandy attire, Rush's refinement is fitting. A man should be well-dressed, especially in the balmy, old movie environment set up by director John Boorman.
Enter anti-hero Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a lascivious, crooked spy whose embarrassed British agency exiles him to Panama for behavior that could be called, in an understatement, "frisky." With a chance to redeem himself, Andy needs to scramble up dirt.
Andy decides to find a British citizen of Panama and use him for information. He settles on a high-end tailor with influential clientele (Rush), a nice, diffident man whose American wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) is assistant to the canal director. Using Harry's pre-Panama secrets against him, Andy manipulates him for intelligence. But Harry's not giving in so easily. He can spin a few webs of deceit himself. Many entanglements ensue with personal, covert and military action on its way with nary one serious "action" scene or shootout.
Which makes Boorman's "Tailor" a different kind of picture. The film cruises along at a pace that demands more of an appreciation for older filmmaking. This is more Graham Greene and less Ian Fleming. But as classically inspired as it may be, it's no "Third Man" or "Odd Man Out." Unlike Boorman's "Point Blank" or "Deliverance," the picture drags yet, oddly, still feels too short. Some characters are of interest (like an unrecognizable Brendan Gleeson as one of Harry's old friends) and some are not (like Curtis, who is ill-fitting as Harry's wife).
Still, the picture is intriguing, and campy enough to be purposely funny. The terrific performances by sleaze incarnate Brosnan and the dandified Rush help move things along splendidly. Both actors sink their teeth into these roles, playing off each other with witty, cat-and-mouse repartee that is underused in modern thrillers. Rush and Brosnan most certainly deserve the cut of their suits.
Pierce Brosnan presents a brilliant parody of the 007 James Bond character which made him famous in "The Tailor of Panama", which was shown at the Berlin film festival on Sunday.
Director John Boorman said that Brosnan was "terribly happy to escape the banality of cinematic heroism" in the movie, an adaptation of British author John Le Carre's black farce of the same title about spying gone wrong in Panama.
"The Tailor of Panama" tells the story of a tailor, played by Geoffrey Rush, who gets involved with a corrupt British spy (Brosnan) and makes up information in order to get paid, setting off a series of events that eventually lead to a US invasion of Panama.
James Bond is a noble and loyal, if a bit eccentric and unpredictable, servant of his country. Osnard, the British spy played by Brosnan in this film, is a decidedly disloyal crook committed to his own self-enrichment.
Osnard is more than politically incorrect; he is a downright heel. Brosnan portrays with relish a perfect English cad, rather than a perfect English gentleman.
Le Carre and Boorman both spoke to reporters after the screening of the film. Le Carre said he had felt it was important in his novel, and the film, to show what had and what had not changed since the end of the Cold War.
"When the (Berlin) Wall came down, there were charming fantasies of romantics that spying would end, political disputes would end, and politicians would speak the truth," the author said.
Le Carre noted that in third-world countries like Panama, what struck him was that there was "no energy" for real change.
"For those of us involved in the end of the Cold War, we have a right to feel greatly disappointed about the aftermath," he said.
He said that while the US presence in Central America had been "justified by the Cold War, it is now justified by the war against drugs."
Le Carre said the US military presence was ever larger, and he felt that Washington was "reinventing" a reason to remain in the region.
The author said he "feared for a world led by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, (US President George W.) Bush, (Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel) Sharon, and I quail at the thought of (Conservative leader) William Hague" taking over in Britain.
He said this was because these leaders used "hostility ... an easier posture in politics than conciliation."
Le Carre said "The Tailor of Panama" was "as pleasurable as the translation gets" from literature to the cinema.
"I like this movie, which is why I'm here" at the Berlinale festival, said Le Carre, who has criticized other film adaptations of his novels. He said turning a book into a movie was "like turning a cow into a bouillon cube."
"The Tailor of Panama" is competing against 22 other films for the Golden Bear, the top prize at the Berlinale, which began last Wednesday and runs until next Sunday.
*THE TAILOR OF PANAMA – Crisply scripted, intelligently acted, sardonically conceived John le Carré spy yarn sends a demoted British MI.6 agent (Pierce Brosnan, perfectly cast as an oily cad) to Panama, where he runs afoul of an even more desperate man, a fake Savile Row tailor (Geoffrey Rush, the picture of cheap opportunism) with a pretty wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and hush-hush info on a "silent opposition" political plot. Director John Boorman, at the top of his form, spins an anti-James Bond for the Age of Bush (Sr. and Jr.), beautifully adapted by Andrew Davies and Boorman from le Carré’s very funny novel. Able support by Brendan Gleeson (almost unrecognizable), Leonor Varela, Catherine McCormack, John Fortune, and Harold Pinter in cameo as a ghost. First-class grownup entertainment (109 min.). –K.V.
Smuggling, larceny, character assassination and subversion: John le Carré and his collaborator John Boorman get away with murder here. Under the guise of turning out an exotic spy thriller starring 007 himself - Pierce Brosnan - Boorman has instead fashioned a deft, dapper, quintessentially English comedy playing on our aggrandised post-colonial self-image. As Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) puts it: ‘We each of us have a dream of ourselves to be more than we are’, and that goes double for MI6 man Andy Osnard (Brosnan), an unscrupulous scoundrel prepared to incite an international incident if he smells money in it.
Exiled to Panama in disgrace, Osnard immediately insinuates himself into high society, using gentleman’s tailor Harry as his conduit (Harry’s Savile Row pretensions go over big with el Presidente, but Osnard knows he’s a fraud who learned his trade in prison). Blackmailed and flattered, bullied and bribed, Harry dreams up an entire rebel movement - ‘the Silent Opposition’ - to boost Osnard’s spending allowance. When that begins to flag, the pair of them concoct a mind-boggling intrigue in which Panama plans to sell the canal to the Chinese. It’s the biggest thing to hit British Intelligence since Suez.
acknowledged a debt to Graham Greene’s ‘Our Man in Havana’, and
Rush’s performance might have been modelled on Alec Guiness: he makes
an endearingly decent mediocrity, a romantic whose sincerity far
his honesty - easy prey for Brosnan’s venal opportunist, casually suave
to his very soul. (Brosnan so clearly relishes this chance to make
with Bond’s credibility, it’s hard to see how he can be trusted with
franchise again.) Working in a lighter register, Boorman has crafted a
witty, classy, richly enjoyable morality play which skewers the
self-interest behind Anglo-American imperialism almost as an
It is a tribute to Pierce Brosnan's characterization of James Bond that it is increasingly difficult to imagine him in any other role these days. Therefore, The Tailor of Panama comes as a shock, because here is Brosnan playing not only a British intelligence agent, Andy Osnard, but one that director John Boorman describes as "the anti-Bond."
In contrast to Bond, Osnard is foul-mouthed, selfish and manipulative, with no moral scruples or sense of loyalty. But besides his job and nationality, he does have one thing in common with Bond: He is a sexual predator.
The film is adapted (in part by the author himself) from a 1996 John le Carre novel. Le Carre, widely thought of as one of the greatest spy novelists, has always specialized in showing the flipside of spying, one that is a far cry from the glamour and danger of Bond's world. In adaptations of previous stories, such as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Smiley's People; and A Perfect Spy, intelligence work is more about bespectacled old men in raincoats blackmailing each other from dingy offices than guns, tuxedos and casinos.
The Tailor of Panama similarly mixes the sordid and mundane side of spying with the glamour of its setting, around Panama City, around the time of the United States' hand-over of the Panama Canal back to Panama in 1999. Osnard is sent to the country by his British bosses to keep an eye on the fate of the canal as a penance for a disgrace back home. Once there, he latches on to Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a bespoke tailor with entry to the highest offices in the land, and party to all the country's gossip.
Osnard takes on the hard-up tailor as a well-paid informant. The trouble is, there is not much to inform about. So, under pressure from a blackmailing Osnard to deliver the goods, Pendel makes it all up, lavishing him with tails of conspiracy and political maneuvering. Things quickly spin out of control as Osnard and his bosses lap up all the tailor's fabrications. Soon, not only is Pendel's outwardly idyllic family life with wife Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis) in jeopardy, but also the lives of his friends and the very fate of the country that is his adopted home.
The plot, in truth, is more than a little preposterous, but it is not meant to be taken absolutely seriously. There is a light hand at work in this tragi-farce, which is shot with wry wit and convincing dialogue.
Rush, an actor who deserves an Oscar nomination for just about every role he ever plays, once more is a marvel to watch as the hapless loose-tongued tailor. Despite his many stupidities, he never loses the viewer's sympathy as he gets increasingly tangled in a web of his own making, orchestrated by the manipulative Osnard.
Brosnan plays his part as a foul-mouthed public school yobbo who checked in his scruples a long time ago. Yet despite his ruthlessness and many appalling qualities, there is still that Brosnan boyish charm that makes the character seductive as well as dangerous. Lee Curtis, meanwhile, is in a quiet role as the tailor's long-suffering wife. But rather like in True Lies, there is a repressed sexuality simmering underneath, which is particularly felt during a family outing, when she is left alone swimming in a lake with Osnard.
Watch out, incidentally, for a cameo from British playwright Harold Pinter as the ghost of Pendel's uncle Benny, dispensing advice at strategic moments. There is also a first look at the new Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe, as Pendel's son.
John Boorman (of Deliverance and Excalibur fame) has delivered what is these days all too rare--a literate film, letting the actors, dialogue and increasingly fraught situations drive the film along to a powerful climax. The crew and actors spent six weeks filming in key locations around Panama, the first Hollywood crew to do so, and the production values show, adding gloss to an already classy cast and script.
In an era of vacuous blockbusters and franchises sequels, this low-key release is a brave attempt to make something of intelligence and wit. It should not be missed on account of these qualities, along with Rush's scene stealing, Brosnan's roguish charm, and the unique setting.
The Tailor of Panama is not your average James Bond movie. That might be because it isn’t a James Bond movie at all, just an elaborate spy story with Pierce Brosnan starring as a suave and sophisticated agent from MI6, a premise which might have had more than just a few people thinking it was indeed James Bond adventure No 20.
The Tailor of Panama cannot, of course, compete with the special effects and action extravaganza that the JB producers consistently come up with, year in, year out. But, by concentrating on – and poking fun at – Pierce Brosnan’s character in the film, it is still a slick and very stylish movie. The script, based on one of John Le Carré’s numerous spy stories and adapted by the writer himself, is about Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a very self-assured ladies’ man, slightly average spy and devoted party animal. Having just had an affair with the ambassador’s mistress, his latest mission takes him to Panama, where he meets up with Harry Pendel, a tailor with all manner of dark secrets concerning the local bourgeoisie up his sleeve. In an attempt to reduce his mounting debts, Pendel joins forces with Osnard in constructing an amazing fictitious tale about a planned uprising against the government.
The film is a cynical yarn that feeds mostly off strong characters who, in turn, derive their strength from a superb all-star cast. Heading the list is Geoffrey Rush, who never ceases to surprise, and who here puts in yet another powerhouse performance (ripe for another Oscar nomination?). With Brosnan also on top form, the subtle interplay between the two of them is hugely entertaining and a good reason on its own to go and see the movie.
To round off a great ensemble, there’s Jamie Lee Curtis as Pendel’s faithful wife, Brendan Gleeson as one of the few remaining revolutionaries in Panama, and Catherine McCormack as Brosnan’s lover. And playwright Harold Pinter puts in a strange cameo as Geoffrey Rush’s best mate.
Really, no director could have gone wrong with what is a thoroughly reliable and nuanced script. And with such a Who’s Who of actors and actresses assembled on set, all that remained for director John Boorman to do was to point his camera in the right direction.
Let’s be fair, though: his experience tells in the cynicism that pervades the whole film, and which he doses just right to keep the film this side of parody. The Tailor of Panama is a worthy addition to John Boorman’s directing CV, which includes films like Point Blank, Deliverance and 1998’s The General.
in all, The Tailor of
is a good example of solid story-telling and screen acting. It is not
arthouse classic but, like The Thomas Crown Affair, a stylish and
film aimed at an audience that is prepared to spend a couple of hours
the movies without the usual fix of car chases and action sequences.
"Welcome to Panama," says Harry Pendel, "a Casablanca without heroes." Harry (the latest chameleonic change of pace for Geoffrey Rush) is the The Tailor of Panama's titular haberdasher, a gossipy, emasculated man who steals secrets from his wife — he's also the closest approximation of a good guy in John Boorman's deliciously nasty adaptation of the John Le Carré best seller. Taylor Hackford's superficially kindred Proof of Life also invoked the ghost of Humphrey Bogart, albeit with a romanticism too restrained to be believed; Boorman's sardonic spy thriller calls forth the Bogie-Bergman mystique merely as a satiric point of reference. In this humid hotbed, lies are more powerful than love and anyone can be bought for the right price.
On the surface, expatriate Pendel has it all: a Saville Row pedigree shop; a beautiful wife, Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis); and two adorable children (played by Daniel Radcliffe, star-in-waiting of the forthcoming Harry Potter movie, and by Boorman's daughter, Lola). But he's actually an ex-con hiding a past life that includes time served for arson, an identity he doesn't have to reconcile until the arrival of Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a British spy banished to post-Noriega Panama to look for any criminal signs of life. Despite the casting, Osnard is hardly 007 material. In fact, he's a devious, foul-mouthed womanizer who instantly pegs Pendel as a patsy, using large amounts of cash (and the veiled threat of blackmail) to set Pendel to sniffing out the city's secrets. Desperate to pay off his debts on a failed investment in a farm, Pendel invents a revolutionary group known as the Silent Opposition. He's enjoying his newfound wealth, and why shouldn't he? After all, where's the harm?
The sneakiest surprise up Tailor's sleeve is the pleasure of seeing the usually stiff Brosnan come uncoiled as a slithery anti-Bond. "It's dark work," Osnard muses, "like oral sex. But somebody has to do it." This unrepentant heel swindles everyone from Pendel to his fellow brass at British Intelligence, and comes on to everything in a skirt, from Louisa to Pendel's good-hearted shop assistant (Leonor Varela) and a frosty co-worker (the sultry Catherine McCormack) he salsa dances into bed. (In a standout scene, he even mock-seduces Pendel at a gay bar as a cover for their secret meeting.) The last time a leading man had this much fun being bad was when Richard Gere made Internal Affairs. And the rest of the cast is up to Brosnan's lead. The ever-sympathetic Rush is smoothly convincing as a well-intentioned liar, Curtis is lucid and strong as his savvy wife, and memorable support is provided by Brendan Gleeson (as Pendel's boozy, ex-revolutionary pal), David Hayman, and playwright Harold Pinter (popping up in unexpected places as Pendel's deceased uncle and guilty conscience).
Those expecting a Bond-like thriller may be disappointed, but this deviously witty diversion deserves to be appreciated for what it is. Adaptations of Le Carré's work are often talky and flaccid (witness The Little Drummer Girl or The Russia House), but Boorman and his cast have made a fast, funny film that goes down like a cyanide-spiked piña colada.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Pierce Brosnan star in The Tailor of Panama, a darkly funny tale about lives spent in disguise.
The Tailor of Panama *** 1/2
Pierce Brosnan does something interesting in The Tailor of Panama, John Boorman's superior adaptation of a lesser John le Carré novel (i.e., one without George Smiley.) Brosnan plays Andy Osnard, a scheming and ruthless British spy. Osnard has been called the anti-Bond, but in fact he is everything that James Bond is -- seductive, knowing, predatory, charming in the service of his own self-interest and, if there is room, the interests of Britain -- but without the moral regulator that makes Bond do the right thing. In fact, that shadowy conscience is the one part of Bond that doesn't fit his character, and you can see Brosnan shed it with the relief of a man who has been holding in his stomach for three 007 movies. Osnard is Bond unleashed, and all Brosnan has to do to occupy the character is loosen his sense of irony, narrow his eyes and say the most awful things as if he was making a Bondish quip about the death of an enemy.
Osnard is Bond with a mean streak. He needs it in The Tailor of Panama, which sends this character to Graham Greene country -- the Our Man in Havana district -- on one of those squalid adventures in the secrecy trade, most of which take place in the dark cellars of the soul, although in this case they are bleakly comic cellars as well. The best of le Carré -- and the best of Greene -- are exercises in reduction, of humanizing and lessening the glories of patriotism, squeezing them into the feeble realities of flawed heroes. The Tailor of Panama tries to do the opposite: it's a film of heightened reality, in which little lies explode into world crises, in the manner of Dr. Strangelove.
Director John Boorman (Deliverance) juggles these two world views expertly, helped by an excellent cast. The film's chief problem is that the political satire overwhelms the human side of the story: le Carré is a painter of secretive lost men, not of large world events, and The Tailor of Panama shrinks them on a canvas that grows larger by the minute.
It captures the tone, though, and black humour. Osnard is an MI-6 operative who is banished to Panama as punishment for something sleazy -- something about gambling debts, a blown assignment, and "the wives" -- and arrives in late 1999, just after the hand-over of the canal from America to Panama. The West is nervous about whether Panama will prove worthy; even after the ouster of strongman Manuel Noriega, the country seems well populated by dubious types.
Needing an insider to help him sort it out, Osnard recruits Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), an obsequious tailor with a whisper of servitude and a way of hiding his customers' flaws under his impeccably made suits. Harry is also living a made-to-measure life story; he's not the expatriate Savile Row designer he pretends to be, but in fact an ex-con who has invented an upscale past to win his wife, the patrician Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis, looking very mannish from the neck up), and his clientele, which includes the Panamanian power structure. "We all have a dream of ourselves," Harry says, talking about the clothes that make the man but ironically referring to the invented history that also does. "We could be more than we are."
Osnard visits Harry, unmasks him, and introduces himself as a spy. "It's dark and lonely work, like oral sex," says Osnard, as ungallant as Dr. No. He blackmails Harry into becoming his operative, and the tailor, grasping the game intuitively, makes up more and more elaborate stories in order to please Osnard and to extract from him the money he needs to pay his debts. The debts, it turns out, are part of a sub-strata of corruption in the country: Harry is being screwed by his friends, most of whom don't even pay for their clothes.
Both Harry and Osnard know that the tailor's information can't be true -- it starts with a tale about Panama planning to turn the canal over to China -- but it takes on a life of its own and, in the manner of such political spoofery, is bought wholesale by political masters in London and Washington and causes an international incident in which innocent lives are lost, another example of the blind brutality of colonialism.
However, it is in the details that le Carré and Boorman weave this darkly funny story, and their Panama is made up of ex-Noriega henchmen still on the prowl and former Noriega foes, like Harry's business manager, the scarred Marta (Leonor Varela) and the opposition hero Mickie (Brendan Gleeson), who are still trying to fight them, old soldiers once hidden but now in the open. Everyone else does it the other way around: the texture of the film lurks in its disguises. Harry's old mentor, Uncle Benny, appears magically (in the person of playwright Harold Pinter) to give him advice on how to handle this imbalance: secrecy is a virtue, says Uncle Benny, and truth an affliction. The embassy staff includes Francesca (Catherine McCormack), whom Osnard seduces and who watches him thereafter with a cynical ownership that is another, more sexual, part of the film's affair with the hidden.
Le Carré is a master at the language of subterfuge, and his work is filled with people living double lives, splitting their loyalties among countries, people and families. Harry is a divided man who has entered his invented world with the same sigh of belief that Rush brings to the role, shuffling loyally behind customers, brushing off their shoulders, and suddenly showing a steel that is more sullen than gleaming. When Osnard asks him where his patriotism is, he replies, "I had it out in prison, without an anesthetic," and it comes with a flash of the weak man's anger.
"Casablanca without heroes," is how Harry describes Panama, a reference to an old film that Boorman evokes at the end as well. It's meant to set up the movie as a takeoff on the old stories of intrigue, a Casablanca without a sense of honour, a place both borrowed and distant. The heroes of The Tailor of Panama are an immoral soldier of fortune and a man who hides his true life and then betrays his friends. There's the beginning of a beautiful friendship in there somewhere, but it's mostly between each man and himself.
"A Casablanca without heroes" is how Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) describes Panama to Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) in this postmodern (read: smartarse) spy caper from the director of 'The General'.
It's hard to know whether Rush's character is referring to the Humphrey Bogart flick or the place itself, and whether he's describing the film he's in or the tiny South American country he also inhabits. Probably all of the above. That's the point.
"The name's Osnard..." says Brosnan, before stopping short and letting the audience figure out the rest. This is James Bond gone bad (or, in reality, a Bond closer to the hero of the original Ian Fleming books) - a ruthless thug more interested in booze and birds than in espionage.
He's an MI6 operative who arrives in Panama under a cloud and forces the President's tailor, Pendel, to spy for him - exploiting the secret criminal history the unfortunate cockney clothes-cropper has been hiding from his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis). It's not that Osnard is patriotic, he's just lazy, and wants to blag money from London in return for information. Of course, Pendel is a great storyteller...
Casting the real 007 as the profane, sexually aggressive and, well, just plain nasty, Osnard is a masterstroke. Brosnan is brilliant and Boorman creates several unlikely scenarios that yield deliciously comic effects. (007 dancing in a gay club has to be seen to be believed.)
John Le Carré - from whose novel this was adapted - has made a career out of de-glamorising the spying game, but this film doesn't simply pillory international espionage, it mocks movies on the subject. It's undoubtedly an acquired taste and the plot gets sillier by the minute (although maybe that's the point) but that doesn't stop it being hilariously funny. 'The Tailor Of Panama' is witty, sly and irreverent - spy it out.
What’s The Truth?: Two new movies, The Tailor of Panama and Memento, are about searching for an ever-elusive reality.
"Who cares if it's true?" says Pierce Brosnan's deliriously unscrupulous secret agent during the ornate repartee that flows through John Boorman's adaptation of John Le Carré's The Tailor of Panama. A raunchy farce of small deceptions, Boorman's film takes a sledgehammer to the spy genre, riffing on meatier questions of truth, identity and the various faces we present to the world.
In the kind of coincidence critics live for, The Tailor opens the same week as Christopher Nolan's Memento --a movie self-consciously preoccupied with genre deconstruction as well as that age-old feud between perception and reality.
Both films are provocative entertainments bold enough to challenge their audiences, but both also suffer from the lousiest, wet-fart anticlimaxes to dither across screens in recent memory.
For at least 100 of its 109 minutes, The Tailor of Panama can't be beat. Pissing all over his stodgy Bond persona with glee, Pierce Brosnan seems to spring to life for the first time as Osnard, Andy Osnard--a spectacularly sleazy, oversexed, boozed-up MI-6 agent demoted to desk duty at the Panama Canal after ill-considered liaisons with wives of his superiors.
It doesn't take the scheming Osnard long before he's found his perfect co-conspirator. Harry Pendel. The tailor of the title, Pendel has a bit of a problem telling the truth. As played by the naturally hammy Geoffrey Rush with a supreme dollop of ostentation, Harry's a closet ex-con who's built his happy new life upon a foundation of carefully thought-out bullshit. Not technically a pathological liar, Harry's just a tailor. He treats facts the way he treats his linen--always searching for places to nip, tuck and alter for sharper, more impressive presentation.
A broad, ribald circus flagrantly in love with the highways and byways of the English language, The Tailor seizes on what happens when you tell a lie for so long it starts to feel like the truth, and the film then balloons until its fast-talking profiteers have shot their mouths off loud enough to inadvertently start a war. Boorman, director of both Deliverance and Exorcist II, is obviously not a filmmaker who believes in half-measures, and The Tailor of Panama bustles with swaggering, jubilant showmanship.
Vertiginously overripe dialogue, courtesy of Boorman, Andrew Davies and Le Carré himself, struggles against an undercurrent of sweaty sexuality--the one subject never far from Osnard's mind. (Brosnan's hysterical leers and beery come-ons alone are worth the price of admission.)
The Tailor of Panama walks a tightrope between blissful amorality and impending doom, with Boorman's goofball New Wave techniques taking a turn for the surreal once some Strangelove-ian Pent-agon players join the fray.
Then there's that goddamn ending. Reshot by studio mandate after test audiences balked, The Tailor of Panama's new finale not only looks like a 1980s sitcom, it bends so far backwards to grant consequence-free absolution to these duplicitous antiheroes, it ceases to make the slightest bit of sense.
But it's better to have 9/10ths of a great movie than Memento....
'CASABLANCA without the heroes," somebody calls the corrupt and glamourous Panama City.
This smart thriller is in fact a blackly comic riff on the '40s classic, as John le Carre (who co-wrote the screenplay based on his novel) looks at international intrigue for the new millennium, when spying seems like a cynical game to occupy the vast bureaucracy left over from the Cold War.
Le Carre has been debunking the Bond myth for years now, giving a weary realism to Britain's MI5 and its melancholy, middle-aged pen-pushers. Andy Osnard (played, with a perfect irony by James Bond himself -- Pierce Brosnan) is what's left now that sad George Smiley has retired; he's a ruthless, manipulative womanizer with an eye for the main chance.
When Andy is posted to Panama (as punishment for sleeping with too many diplomats' wives), he's hoping to capitalize on the city's stew of passion and paranoia. General Noriega is gone but his cronies are still there, overseeing the drug-running and money-laundering, and international interests have a nervous eye on the canal, only recently handed back to the control of the Panamanian government.
Andy just needs a way in, and he finds it in tailor Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a transplanted Brit who knows the in-seam measurements of Panama's wealthiest, most powerful men -- and a whole lot more.
Harry is a professional flatterer -- he regularly convinces men that they look like Cary Grant, after all -- and so he tells Andy what he thinks he wants to hear, a wonderful cloud of wish-fulfillment and fantasy that darkens as it gets closer to Panama's very real monsters.
John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur) has made a wickedly funny work; the hint of menace, the undercurrent of urgency that are never far away in a Boorman film just make the laughter sharper.
Brosnan finally puts his suave charm to astoundingly negative use -- his portrayal of Andy descends from smooth to smarmy to utterly nasty. And Rush's portrait of a decent man with dangerously good intentions is, interestingly, a much better indication of his talent than his showy turns in Shine and Quills. His warm-hearted Harry suggests that Panama isn't entirely without heroes, even if they are fatally misguided
riveting tale: Spying unmasked as the nasty, shabby business it really
Tailor of Panama:
The verities of the Cold War have been replaced by the tawdriness of drug dealing, the savagery of gun running and the sliminess of laundering dirty money. In the Panama of this movie, no one is to be trusted.
But grime, sin and cynicism are the stuff of great spy movies. Make no mistake, The Tailor of Panama is a great spy movie, ranking up there with such subversive, hero-less films as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Ipcress File.
John le Carre, who wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay, and director John (The General) Boorman create a world where nearly everyone is flawed and innocence is at a premium. It's a place of deceptions of all kinds, including political, marital and professional. It's also rife with self-deception, the most insidious kind of deceit there is.
Blended together by a masterful director working with a superbly paced screenplay and an assured, deft cast, the film also has moments of dark humour, the sort that works because the droll, knowing wit is tinged with tension and suspense.
Geoffrey Rush plays Harry Pendel, the tailor of the title, in a performance that could well earn him another trip to the Academy Awards. His shop on one of Panama's smartest streets is an elegant place of English worsteds, hot-weather linen blends and a fitting room with furnishings that would not be out of place in the finest of British gentlemen's clubs.
But like everyone else in this film, Pendel is not what he seems.
Mind you, neither is Andy Osnard, the new MI6 agent working out of the British embassy. Osnard, shrewdly played by Pierce Brosnan as an anti-Bond figure, is a crafty devil.
He's been assigned to the Panama outpost as punishment mostly because of peccadilloes involving women at more important embassies throughout the world.
Panama is his opportunity to save his career or, even better, put aside a little something for his approaching retirement.
Osnard's way of worming into Panama's upper crust, a thin layer of men all of whom have an eye on the main chance, is to make contact with the man who knows them best.
Who better than the tailor in whom they confide?
On the other side of this taut little equation is Pendel and his need for money. He has spent the inheritance left his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) on a dusty, drought-ridden farm and his shop is struggling, too.
A gentleman is never pressed for payment, and many of the accounts at Pendel and Braithwaite are long overdue.
An agreement is reached between Osnard and Pendel, a man with a deep secret in his past that could be more destructive even than bankruptcy.
If Pendel tells Osnard all that he overhears in his shop or knows from his past contacts with the Noriega-era underground, there could be a nice cash payoff.
Actually, there could be a nice cash payoff for everyone, particularly if the Americans can be convinced to bankroll the silent opposition that is at odds with a suggested sale of the canal to the Chinese.
All that's required is Pendel giving more and more information, some of it stolen from his wife's work as an executive with the canal authority, some of it completely fabricated. Osnard, for his part, will not scrutinize the material very closely.
Things like this come with their own costs, and Pendel's activities threaten his best friend Mickey Abraxas (Brendon Gleeson from The General), a onetime anti-Noriega freedom fighter who now wallows in booze and fat. Pendel also endangers his shop assistant, the tragically scarred but fiercely dedicated Marta (Leonor Varela), a woman who knows just how cruel politics can be.
Of the lot here, only Marta is true, although Harry becomes increasingly admirable, if only because his motivation is to protect his family. To be sure, he's weak, but ultimately he has some shred of courage left in him.
While he may often cut the suit to fit the occasion and fashion a past out of whole cloth, Pendel is a man whose emotions, at least, are genuine.
It's also refreshing to see a film that doesn't depend on car crashes, explosions or the kind of jolting violence that is present only to take our minds off the plotless nonsense we're often forced to watch in spy movies.
Instead, The Tailor of Panama is literate and often funny, a movie that tells a story about espionage that we rarely see. It's a nasty, shabby business where there are no real winners and weaknesses are to be exploited.
It's also a grand story, a film that is both escapist and yet carries a message about the need for truth and the cost of lies.
They don't give John Boorman as many chances as they used to. In the past decade, the superb filmmaker behind Point Blank, Deliverance, Zardoz, Excalibur, Exorcist II: The Heretic and Hope and Glory--fascinating, engaging, important films, the lot of them--has seen plenty of possibilities dry up. The studios which once supported him now view him as something of a throwback. He developed A Simple Plan and almost got to direct it, then saw it handed off to Sam Raimi using the cast he'd fought for and the locations he'd chosen. He did manage to make Beyond Rangoon and The General during the 1990s; the first received tepid critical response, the second was generally acclaimed...and both tanked at the box office. At 68, Boorman remains vigorous, but who knows how many more movies he's got in him?
It's gratifying, therefore, to find him at the helm of The Tailor of Panama, adapted from John Le Carre's post-Cold War bestseller. Right off the bat, you can sense that there's at least an outside chance of commercial viability here. A film based on a popular novel from a well-regarded author; a cast which cannily employs the current James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, as a secret agent who might charitably be described as 007 gone to hell. Sounds like a potential smash, right? Right?
Well, no. But who cares? This is crackling comic entertainment brimming with ironic insights and top-notch performances. Should it have to make a gazillion dollars?
Geoffrey Rush stars as Harry Pendel, owner/operator of the Panama City branch of a respected London clothier with roots dating back many generations. Harry dresses every dignitary of note, including Panama's president. His access to the elite marks him as a British citizen in a rare position to provide inside information. And the depth of his indebtedness to the local bank makes him vulnerable to financial persuasion. Enter Andy Osnard (Brosnan), a disgraced agent sent to Panama City as penance for the diplomatic embarrassments he's caused. There's precious little action to report, what with the Americans having such enduring interests in Panama versus such a skeletal British presence. But Andy knows that his bosses enjoy a good story, and he recognizes Harry as a man who can't resist spinning a tall tale. He already knows that Harry is a fraud, that he's an ex-con who's never come clean about his shady past with his own wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), that he's got no connection whatsoever with Saville Row. When Andy starts stuffing Harry's pockets with packets of money, the tailor can't help but respond.
Soon he's feeding an imaginative fiction about an old chum (Brendan Gleeson, wholly unrecognizable as the same fellow who starred in Boorman's The General) who once led the opposition to Noriega but has since devolved into a loudmouthed drunk. Harry informs Andy that this wreck of a man is in cahoots with Harry's own secretary (Leonor Varela, recently TV's Cleopatra but actually acting here), leading a populist faction which hopes to stop the reigning president from selling the Panama Canal to the Chinese. It's a skein of lies from stem to stern, but Andy manages to sell the entire improbable package to his handlers, who in turn solicit millions from the Pentagon to fund Harry's nonexistent rebels. Needless to say, the disenchanted Osnard will be keeping a very close watch on the money.
Several elements coalesce wonderfully well. Rush's depiction of an essentially likable chap trapped by his own tongue easily outclasses his recent Oscar-nominated turn in Quill and bears favorable comparison to William H. Macy in Fargo (though Macy's character was certainly anything but likable). Curtis winds up recycling stray bits of her role in True Lies, but this is by far the meatier script; she tackles her bedroom scenes with a gusto she hasn't shown since Trading Places. The supporting work is vividly realized throughout, particularly Gleeson and Varela.
But the real hook may prove to be Brosnan, who showed us in The Thomas Crown Affair that he's got more on the ball than his damnably bland Bond. The Tailor of Panama provides persuasive evidence that Brosnan's got the chops to really do the job, if the Bond producers would permit him to cut loose. Plugging the current 007 into the part of Andy Osnard makes a bold statement: Here's what this sort of man might be like if we encountered him in something resembling the real world. Should it surprise us that he's an awful human being--sex-obsessed, vulgar, casually cruel, with a smirking disregard for all others? This is the ultimate antidote to every James Bond movie since Sean Connery abdicated the throne.
Boorman provides the requisite sex and violence, but subverts any licentious expectations by confining most of the bloodshed to fast flashbacks (secret agent Andy never fires a gun), and the most outrageous sex is glimpsed out a window in a neighboring apartment, when Harry meets Andy in a cheap hotel where Andy is trying to convince himself that he's marginally aroused by the porno playing on his pay-per-view TV. The joke's on the jaded spy: the tailor regularly gets better action from his missus, at home.
PARNASS, Staff Writer
When the opening credits for "The Tailor of Panama" come up, we see a thin man of the needle trade bent over his work, rapidly marking lines on dark fabric he will cut to shape a man's suit.
The sequence is accelerated, a device that neatly underscores the speed and sureness of the craftsman's hands, as he wields a tape measure, a ruler and a nubbin of chalk. Harry Pendel, the elegant tailor of Panama, confidently costumes the rich and connected in Panama City, the ones who took the spoils when the Americans dragged Noriega out.
Things are fine when the emigre Brit, a supposed veteran of Saville Row, is leaving white lines.
When it's white lies, there's trouble.
Pendel, brought soulfully to life by Geoffrey Rush, becomes the moral fixture, though a shaky one, in a fine movie that shrugs itself free of being only a deft thriller, a category that would pinch at the shoulders. "The Tailor of Panama" is laced with the machinations of spies, but it plays more richly, more completely and even humorously, as a story about a decent man's tumble into corruption.
Agent Andy Osnard's posting to Panama, by British intelligence, comes as punishment for his transgressions, especially, his supervisors notes, with "the wives."
As Osnard, Pierce Brosnan is dashing, like that other spy he plays, but adds layers of deceitfulness here. He zeroes in on the hapless tailor, understanding that Pendel's access to the rich will give him an inside view of Panama City power.
The agent begins to play, stuffing thick envelopes of money into those perfectly tailored jacket pockets. In a brief fitting with Panama's president, Pendel pries for information, then serves up scraps to his handler. Headquarters in London starts to salivate over the one about a supposed scheme to shift control of the Panama Canal.
Pendel and two of his down-to-earth friends - a man and woman who showed courage under Noriega's regime, and suffered for it - are getting their little wads of money, but Osnard senses there's a really big score to be had.
Director John Boorman, using a screenplay co-written by John le Carre and Andrew Davies (and based on le Carre's 1996 novel), brings a lot of solid story along with the quickening drama about the tailor's ridiculous side career as spook and Osnard's reach for a multi-million dollar payoff, financed by an American military spoiling for an excuse to take the canal back.
Escorting a drunken friend home, Pendel drives his Land Rover along a battered street far from where the elites live. A rolling camera absorbs scenes that go by, infusing the movie with a feeling for Panama. Osnard, the agent stuck in a punitive post, watches it all with weariness. The nickname for the city's new skyline? Cocaine towers. For the 85 banks? The launderettes.
Pendel tries to muddle through, believing a good suit is an emblem of a good life. Osnard threatens to tell the tailor's wife Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis) that he learned his trade in prison, not on Saville Row. Hemmed in, the tailor tries to keep his head above water, weighed down by a human burden: having a conscience about how the agent's scheme is endangering his friends.
Truth and honor, this story suggests, must be recalibrated by latitude - and this is Panama.
As one character says, "This is Panama, where no good deed goes unpunished."
Another offers this: "A man who tells the truth is bound to be found out sooner or later."
As those lines show, this is a wise and funny movie with a taste for satire. What passes for "intelligence" here, of course, is patently funny. The barbed way Boorman captures the Pentagon's hunger to get back into Panama owes a little debt to Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." Sure enough, the choppers scramble for a raid, all because of a tailor's inventions.
Among many pleasures here, Rush's tailor is the main one. He manages to elicit deep sympathy for a man who went for a payday, perhaps because, in a relative universe, he's the one who's least corrupt.
Though the movie's pace accelerates a little too pointedly toward the end, that scramble doesn't upend the satisfying balance already struck. We get naked greed and the everyday kind, clothed in fine clothes or ordinary ones, but still wanting it all the same.
It doesn't take much of a leap to imagine James Bond -- grown older, disillusioned and completely (as opposed to mostly) amoral -- messing with one of his superiors' wives and being banished to a place like Panama.
That's exactly what happens to Andy Osnard. The arrogant antihero of the droll political thriller The Tailor of Panama arrives in Panama City looking to make one last score and get out of the espionage racket forever. In a masterstroke of casting, the film's producers landed the celluloid manifestation of 007 himself, Pierce Brosnan, to play the lead in their lively adaptation of John Le Carre's popular novel.
The cynical British spy needs an ally with local connections. So he blackmails Harry Pendel (the sublime Geoffrey Rush), a mild-mannered Cockney ex-con who has reinvented himself as a tailor to Panama's rich and powerful.
Trouble is, Pendel has a penchant for exaggeration and embellishment, if not outright fabrication. His yarns about guerrilla undergrounds and backroom deals with foreign superpowers have repercussions that neither spy nor tailor could have foreseen.
It's a treat to watch their offbeat relationship evolve. Andy bullies and flatters. Harry sees through his manipulative ploys yet appears to enjoy the deception too much not to play along.
Andy cares about no one but himself and lets nothing ruffle his feathers. When he isn't extracting information from Harry in some seedy meeting place, he's bedding his liaison (Catherine McCormack) at the British embassy or attempting to seduce Harry's wife (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Brosnan clearly relishes the opportunity to play a man unfettered by scruples. 007, for all his gambling, killing, conspicuous consumption and womanizing, is grounded in patriotism and loyalty to Her Majesty's secret service. A Goldfinger or a Largo could never buy him off. Andy Osnard, by contrast, would sell out Mother England in less time than it took to electronically transfer the funds into his offshore account.
Harry, on the other hand, worries about everyone. He's especially fond of a broken down former anti-Noriega rebel (Brendan Gleeson) and a beautiful business manager (Leonor Varela) horribly disfigured by the deposed strongman's goons.
While it's fun to imagine James Bond as an unprincipled scoundrel, the greater pleasure lies in watching Geoffrey Rush inhabit the character of a simple man thrust into a heroic role. Whether nimbly chalking and cutting a suit or nervously patching together a crazy quilt of bogus plots and conspiracies, he rivets our attention while maintaining an air of innocence.
Le Carre's refined wit and intricate knowledge of the rules of the contemporary spy game inform the proceedings. But despite the presence of Brosnan in a role that slyly sends up the 007 legacy, The Tailor of Panama couldn't be further removed from the glitzy, gadget-driven thrill rides that Bond movies have become. The pace is slow and reflective, and the dry and relatively sophisticated humor will likely sail over the heads of too many mainstream moviegoers for the film to achieve commercial success.
This Tailor may be too smart for today's off-the-rack audiences.