by Dave White
The Players: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine McCormack, Dylan Baker, Harold Pinter
The Play: Rush is a tailor. In Panama. Brosnan is a British spy sent across the Atlantic to get some information. So Rush, who needs money, offers up some bogus info in exchange for cash. It all backfires of course, as people begin to double-cross each other and the evil Brosnan tries to fake out everyone involved. Best of all, it's light and clever, has a cast full of people over 40, which pretty much makes it a novelty film, and all the actors seem to be having a great time. You will, too.
Coolest Scene: Rush throws down an anti-Armani rant that helps him remember his principles, just in time to try to foil Brosnan's diabolical plan. You never knew that soft, unconstructed, off-the-rack clothing could inspire such passionate hate.
Nastiest Scene: Clichéd scenes of the ruling families of Panama all partying together in which there's dialogue thrown around like, "This is Panama, where no good deed goes unpunished," and "This is Panama. Casablanca without heroes." It's meant to be funny, I guess.
Cineast Factor: Director John Boorman made The General, Hope and Glory and Deliverance. Of course he also made Exorcist II: The Heretic and Zardoz, but everybody's got some skeletons in their closets, don't they?
When to Go Get a Drink/Hit the Restroom/Answer That Page: The first 30 minutes is all plot set up, and it's all lies anyway, so it won't matter if you miss a bit and need to catch up later. This is pure entertainment—and not the most complicated, either.
Date Movie? No. There's a love story going on, but it's given no room to be anything other than a crutch to fall back on when the spy stuff needs a break. Brosnan, however, engages in some steamy, rough sex—way more, in fact, than they let poor James Bond have these days.
You Should Pay Nine Bucks to See This If: You're not sure you can buy Brosnan as a totally malicious, woman-using pig. He actually wears it well.
Calling Dr. Strangelove: Dylan Baker is hilarious as a superhawkish military man who believes God wants Panama invaded by the U.S.
The Tailor of Panama
Verdict: Well-tailored but not as well as many of John Boorman’s other films.
Details: Starring Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush. Directed by John Boorman. Rated R for strong sexuality, profanity and some violence. One hour, 49 minutes.
Review: “The way I see it,” says Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), the title character in “The Tailor of Panama,” “We all have a dream of ourselves.”
Harry’s dream of himself is what gets him into trouble in John Boorman’s accomplished but flawed adaptation of the 1996 John le Carré novel. The story takes place in Panama, shortly after the ousting of Manuel Noriega. With the government in flux, the canal is in play. Meaning, a lot of very big powers are interested in a very little country.
Harry runs a tailor shop called Braithwaite & Pendel, which is designed to be a touch of London’s Savile Row in the tropics. The tailoring room looks like a gentleman’s club, and Harry, who wears pin-striped three-piece suits, speaks to his clients in that hushed, proprietory yet humble tone used by valets and butlers.
However, there is no Braithwaite (his portrait is actually Harry’s Uncle Benny) and Harry is a Jewish ex-con who never so much as threaded a needle on Savile Row. But no one knows his secret. Not even his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) who’s an assistant to the director of the canal. That’s why Harry is the tailor of choice for all the rich and powerful left in Panama City. Even El Presidente. They all want to look “un-Panamanian” and Harry’s charade appeals to them.
All is well until Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), having been booted from Madrid for certain indiscretions, turns up. Describing himself as “the new boy at the British Embassy,” Andy is actually a spy (a nice play on Brosnan’s James Bond identity). A lazy, corrupt, womanizing spy. He knows who Harry really is and uses Harry’s predilection for fantasy and his local connections to save himself the trouble of actually having to work.
All Andy needs are some of Harry’s yarns to feed periodically to the fellows back in Britain. When Harry comes up with a whopper about “the silent opposition,” i.e. the poor peasants supposedly carrying on the revolution secretly, Andy knows he’s hit paydirt. There’s nothing like the threat of a revolution to keep the bosses satisfied and the behind-closed-doors money flowing.
Boorman is a legendary director whose work ranges from “Point Blank” and “Deliverance” to “Excalibur” and “Hope and Glory” (one of the best movies of the ’80s). He doesn’t make many films — 14 in the last 35 years — so any time he does anything, attention must be paid.
There are many good things about this movie. At times, it approximates the wry tone of “Our Man in Havana,” the Graham Greene adaptation with Alec Guinness. But there’s something wrong here. Going for both playful and poignant, Boorman can’t get the mix quite right. The suffering of two former revolutionaries important to Harry doesn’t jibe with Andy’s sex capades or with the greediness-as-usual black humor in the scenes with the government types.
Where the picture does work is in the relationship between Harry and Andy. Rush delivers a shrewd, detailed performance as a jabbering little man who gets in trouble when he tries to swim with the big fish. Brosnan is even better. At first, he doesn’t seem quick enough, not devilish enough. But you slowly realize he doesn’t want to be those things. He’s creating a different kind of trickster, one whose smugness is matched by his torpor. The only time Andy moves fast is when he’s about to lose a lot of loot. Otherwise, watching Brosnan is like watching one long, lazy post-massage — or post-coital stretch. He’s 007 on permanent vacation.
— Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Let's see, Pierce Brosnan as a British spy. Hmmm, haven't we seen that one before? But here, plopped down in this adaptation of John le Carré's spy novel, he's a bad-boy Bond looking to get into a lot of mischief in Panama. And like Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, Brosnan does that quite well when he's a shaken (not stirred) shyster hot on the coattails of Geoffrey Rush. Rush, whose seemingly perfect life includes nights with wife Jamie Lee Curtis, cooking breakfast for a couple of charming kids and spinning yarns for the local politicians while sewing suits, is a bit of a scoundrel himself and has a secret or two up his nicely tailored sleeve. Director John Boorman does his best to keep le Carré's cross-stitched stories moving at an exciting pace. And even if the ending (not le Carré's) shows its quick-fixed-ness, this spy thriller's still a nice fit.
Movie Review by Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Tailor of Panama
Geoffrey Rush is the Meryl Streep of Australia -- a superbly trained actor with a killer instinct for the outsized role. Physical transformations inspire his most attention getting performances: unkempt and goggly as an emotionally damaged pianist in ''Shine,'' done up like a demented peacock in satin britches in ''Quills.'' In The Tailor of Panama, John Boorman's masterful, eccentrically bespoke adaptation of John le Carré's 1996 best seller, Rush shrugs into the title role of Harry Pendel by pitching his posture slightly forward as he scuttles about his adopted city; by clothing his podgy body in boxy, recessive gray suits; by twisting his lips in a permanent hoping-to-please smile; and by puffing his voice with air and coating it with oil as he croons compliments to the gentlemen who frequent his establishment. The physical business works: Rush is convincing as a man with secrets sewn into his psychic lining.
Pendel is a genteel needle and thread fellow capable of conveying silky Anglican pomp as he takes the measure of all the muckety mucks of Panama City. But his fancy manners and great skill as an entertaining fabulist are meant to cover over his stumpy roots as a lowborn Jewish ex-con who learned his trade in prison. Pendel is married to a proper, well-heeled government worker (Jamie Lee Curtis); he's a beaming father to two kids (one of whom is played by Daniel Radcliffe, soon to be seen as Harry Potter) -- and he meets his match when Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) walks into his shop. Osnard is a British spy -- a le Carré spy, to be precise, which is to say, more shaken than stirring: He's nothing at all like the superior James Bond gents the actor is used to creating, and Brosnan looks like he couldn't be happier messing around as a bad boy. Osnard is a little shady, a little ruthless, and a lot liable to mischief no matter where he's dispatched. (Panama City is not exactly a plum posting.) Just moments, it seems, after he touches down on a new assignment, Osnard, who knows of Pendel's past, gloms onto the tale telling tailor as an entrée into Panamanian society for his own shifty (and money grubbing) purposes. That he's picked the wrong suit eventually becomes explosively clear.
Le Carré's ''The Tailor of Panama'' is one of the writer's typically fine sewn patchwork thrillers that delights in the dark comedy of personal and professional treacheries and counter maneuvers executed by vividly drawn characters in a colorful setting. It's also a bitch to wrestle into a movie. Boorman's ''Tailor,'' with a valiant script originally written by le Carré himself, then custom fitted by Andrew Davies (''Bridget Jones's Diary'') and the director, inevitably loses some of the spymaster's snap, bite, and narrative complexity, particularly when it comes to ''uncinematic'' issues of Panamanian American political history, or the subtly crucial, ever so English detail of Pendel's Jewishness. (All that's left: Children wear yarmulkes at his son's religious school; the ghost of Harry's advice-giving dead uncle Benny, feistily played by avuncular playwright Harold Pinter, appears from time to time to whisper sweet ''oy oy oys.'')
But just as he did with his slash and burn masterpieces ''Point Blank'' and ''The General,'' Boorman stomps into Panama with a signature energy and wit that keeps the story angled forward, rather like Rush's posture. He saturates his movie with the steaminess, the stickiness, the sheen of sex sweat and cheat sweat and flop sweat that coats everyone pinned and wriggling in the overlapping worlds of spy and stitcher. Boorman loves syncopated action, whether it's a hot hump session between Osnard and the cool British embassy operative (Catherine McCormack) he fixes on as a conquest, or a simple, elegant, silent, jazzily sped up scene in which Pendel chalks and cuts fabric for a suit jacket. And he conveys a kind of ruthless compassion in the intersecting stories of the drunken ex-revolutionary Mickie (''The General'''s imposing Brendan Gleeson) and Pendel's politically active office manager, Marta (Leonor Varela, star of TV's ''Cleopatra''). (Boorman is also fond of Jamie Lee Curtis -- apparently they're offscreen friends -- but does her no favors by letting her wilt, unexcitable and unexciting, as the wife to whom Pendel is so menschily devoted.) B+