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The Tailor of Panama

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Tailor of Panama

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan
Director: John Boorman
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense


*Also starring: David Hayman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson, Harold Pinter, Leonor Varela, Catherine McCormack, Jon Polito, Harry Ditson



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1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
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Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

"The Tailor of Panama" is a different kind of spy movie. Despite the presence of Pierce Brosnan, there is nary a hint of James Bond flash here. Instead of big action scenes, leering super villains and empty-headed femme fatales, we get interesting characters and an intriguing situation. Based on the novel by John le Carré, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the film offers viewers something rarely seen in theaters this time of year: a solid, well-told story.

Brosnan plays Andy Osnard, a British operative walking on thin ice. His British superiors ship him off to Panama, making sure he understands that he had better not screw up the placement. Osnard arrives in the tropics virtually oozing contempt for his new co-workers and his new home base. When shown the Bridge of the Americas by a person marveling over the fact that, since the creation of the Panama Canal, the structure is the sole connection between North and South America, he barely keeps from yawning. Brosnan clearly relishes the chance to be the antithesis of 007, investing the suave spy with a distinct reptilian quality coupled with an air of indifference that irks his fellows to no end.

Searching for a way to get information on the government, Osnard sets his sights on Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), an unctuous tailor serving the Panamanian elite. Harry claims to be a transplant from Britain's renowned Saville Row, but Osnard knows his secret: The tailor is an ex-con who served five years in prison after torching his uncle's shop in an insurance scam. He also knows that Harry is up to his ears in debt, having spent a fortune on an unsuccessful farm.

Osnard offers Harry a way out. He will pay for information Harry has gathered from his upscale clientele. Eager to comply, Harry offers what he knows, then starts concocting tidbits to keep the money flowing. Before long, he is forced to spy on his loving wife, Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), an aide to the Canal director.

Harry's little lies build, eventually taking on a life of their own. Osnard turns in reports about the "silent opposition," a group threatening to upset the balance of control over the canal. The bogus revelation proves explosive, leading to meetings in Washington D.C. over how to best protect the vital waterway. Meanwhile, Osnard wallows in his newfound status, enjoying the best the city has to offer and wooing an attractive co-worker. And Harry grows ever more fretful, fearing the consequences if his clients, not to mention his wife, learn about his lies.

Geoffrey Rush is wonderful as Harry, fawning over his customers by day and savoring his rich family life in the evenings, all while playing secret agent in the off hours with his new benefactor. Rush makes Harry a credible figure, presenting the various levels of the character so effectively that he remains sympathetic despite his duplicity. After gaining fame playing larger than life characters, Rush flips everything around for this role, using his energy to depict the quiet desperation of a man slowly realizing that the solution to his troubles may be worse than the original problems.

Although she gets far too little screen time, Jamie Lee Curtis imbues Louisa with a depth greater than the screenplay provides her. Of the central characters, she is the only one that exhibits maturity and genuine self-confidence. Curtis is one of my favorite female actors; whiplash smart, sultry and charismatic, she deserves more than supporting roles.

Speaking of supporting characters, there are some great ones here. Harold Pinter is amusing as Harry's Uncle Benny, who pops up throughout the story in a number of creative ways. Also shoring up the proceedings is Jon Polito as a corrupt banker and Dylan Baker, who is a riot as a United States general straight out of the Dr. Strangelove school of armed patriotism.

But the most important secondary performers are Leonor Varela and Brendan Gleeson, both outstanding as two wounded activists. Their presence adds weight to the story, reminding us that beyond the charades of the leading men, there are real people that have suffered greatly over the politics connected to the Canal. Director John Boorman adds additional verisimilitude by shooting the film on location. Instead of using Panama City merely as a colorful backdrop, he adroitly weaves in footage of all aspects of life there. The metropolis, described by one character as "Casablanca without heroes" pulsates with life, underling the folly of the two foreigners playing dangerous games that could have a disastrous impact on a great many people. "The Tailor of Panama" succeeds because the principals behind it were bright enough to make it more than a simple entertainment.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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