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The Tailor of Panama
The Tailor of Panama
Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Brendan Gleeson
Director: John Boorman
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
R     2001     1hr 49min


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Movie Details

Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Brendan Gleeson
Director: John Boorman
Creators: Philippe Rousselot, John Boorman, John le Carré, Kevan Barker, Andrew Davies
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Espionage, Pierce Brosnan, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/11/2001
Original Release Date: 01/01/2001
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2001
Release Year: 2001
Run Time: 1hr 49min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 2
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English, English, French
Subtitles: English, French
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Movie Reviews

"It's a game...Let's have some fun."
Mary Whipple | New England | 12/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Based on the novel by John LeCarre, this action-packed screenplay by Andrew Davies and LeCarre showcases Panama City in the heady times immediately before the Canal was turned over to Panamanian control. Andrew Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a free-wheeling British intelligence officer in the doghouse with his superiors, is assigned to Panama to be sure that "the world's biggest trade gate does not fall into the wrong hands." Meeting tailor Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) in his shop, Osnard observes that Pendel has contact with all the important members of the Panamanian government, the opposition, the press, and the diplomatic corps, and, using blackmail, recruits Pendel as a spy for Britain.

When the tailor does not discover any information and is squeezed for it (because he has debts due), he makes it up stories about a "silent opposition," the machinations of the French and Chinese to acquire the Canal, and the negotiations of a corrupt government for its sale. Soon American and British diplomats are arming and preparing for war to ensure that the Canal stays in "friendly" hands.

The plot is nearly identical to that of Graham Greene's famous novel and 1959 film of Our Man in Havana, and the viewer will find few, if any, surprises as the meddling by Osnard and Pendel unfolds. Lacking a strong plot, Director John Boorman has ensured that interest remains high, however, by filming on location in Panama City with its night life, festivals, and parties and by giving Osnard (Brosnan) a libido that controls his life. Attractive women, such as Francesca (Catherine McCormack) at the British Embassy and even Pendel's wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) fall under his spell, and more than a few "Janet Jackson moments" keep the viewer tantalized.

A glitzy film which offers plenty of exotic atmosphere, violence, sex, and intrigue, the film lacks only the chase scene which would have converted Brosnan from Osnard to James Bond. Rush, as always, gives a sterling performance as the bumbling tailor, frantic to keep his wife from knowing of his debts and his years in prison. Curtis does a fine job of acting, but it feels like acting, and it is almost impossible to imagine her married to someone like Pendel. Enjoyable and fun to watch, as long as one does not look for depth in the plot or characters, this film provides plenty of amusement and light entertainment for those not offended by the strong language and sexual content. Mary Whipple
Sex, Lies and Saville Row.
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 05/13/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If before the release of John Boorman's adaptation of John le Carre's "Tailor of Panama" (scripted by the novel's author himself) anybody had told me I'd ever see Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan costarring in the same movie, I'd have snapped "And pigs fly" in response. Apparently I wasn't alone in that feeling, as Mr. Rush himself said much the same thing - although more politely - in an interview broadcast around the time the movie hit the theaters.

Yet, on second thought, who'd have been more appropriate to play James Bond's evil twin than the latest incarnation of Bond himself? Who more appropriate to play the story's multifarious title character than the actor who shone in complex roles like David Helfgott, the Marquis de Sade and Shakespearean theater owner Philip Henslowe?

Going in, I didn't doubt that Geoffrey Rush would be an amazing Harry Pendel - the role of the seemingly pathetic antihero, the little man desperately trying to maintain his dignity in the face of overwhelming odds fits him like a glove; and he does indeed give a bravura, almost Chaplinesque performance. The greater surprise for me was Pierce Brosnan, who takes every single Bond cliche and merrily runs with it in the opposite direction: I confess this took some getting used to, but once I'd gotten into the swing of it, I enormously enjoyed his skill and courage in deconstructing the very image on which his fame is grounded.

Brosnan is Andy Osnard, an MI6 agent sent to Panama as a punishment for having stepped on one toe to many during his last posting. He isn't exactly enthusiastic about the assignment to what he views as a seedy tropical backwater, but his superiors tell him that he's there to safeguard British interests in the wake of the Panama Canal's turnover to the Panamanian government after General Noriega's ouster. Generating leads in preparation for his arrival, Osnard comes across the name of Harry Pendel, a tailor billing himself as one half of "Pendel and Braithwaite," ostensibly an enterprise in the venerable Saville Row tradition, founded by now-deceased Arthur Braithwaite. But the shop's alleged provenance is as big a fabrication as Harry's personal history; for in fact, he learned tailoring in prison, where he was sent for burning down his Uncle Benny (Harold Pinter)'s shop. Discovering this - and the fact that Harry used to be Noriega's tailor and is still very much in favor with the currently reigning clique (the same people already in power under Noriega: "They got Ali Baba but missed the 40 slaves," Harry comments) - Osnard quickly decides that Harry Pendel is the weakest link in the British expat community; the perfect guy to lean on and generate intelligence.

Soon Harry is trapped between the growing pressure exercised by Osnard, his considerable financial needs (which Osnard has promised to remedy) and the admonitions of his faux conscience Uncle Benny never to tell the truth, the only thing that can really hurt him: "Try sincerity, that's a virtue" Uncle Benny advises - "truth is an affliction." And so Harry spins lie after lie; constructing a mesh in which he is ultimately caught together with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis in one of her best-ever performances) and closest friends Micky Abraxas (an almost unrecognizable Brendan Gleeson) and Marta (Leonor Varela), who have barely survived Noriega's regime - Micky broken in spirit, Marta with a perpetually scarred face. Because Harry's lies about a "silent opposition" network and alleged plans to sell the Panama Canal to the Chinese are good enough to eventually prompt the British *and* American governments to plan a new invasion - and with that prospect looming large over Panama City's infamous "cocaine towers" skyline, the Pendel family, Micky and Marta find themselves in an almost inescapable stranglehold.

Although written by one of the great masters of the spy thriller genre and despite a plot featuring all the trademark elements, "The Tailor of Panama" is *not* a thriller but a farce; as much parody of the genre as mordant satire on the intelligence community (which le Carre knows intimately from personal experience) and sharp criticism of the first world's exploitation of the corrupt power structures of strategically located, cash-strapped countries in the developing world. References to both "Casablanca" and Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" are deliberate; obviously so in its setting and in the satirical creation of a would-be spy spinning a web of lies just to keep the cash coming in and eventually caught in that web when his lies come true; but also in Harry's reference to Panama as "Casablanca without heroes," and when Osnard, taken to a small plane by a British diplomat, wonders aloud whether this could be "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" ("I think it desperately unlikely," is the icy response).

The movie seems to be particularly unpopular with two groups: Brosnan fans disappointed not to see him play another superhero like James Bond and Remington Steele (and there's little to be said about this; you either buy into his deconstruction of that image or you don't) and Panamanians alienated by their country's portrayal as a corrupt banana republic. I admittedly haven't been to Panama (yet); and I'm sure it has more to offer than corruption, cocaine and the colorful, seedy nightlife so amply displayed here. But Panama's history is a troubled one, and the ongoing role of the Western powers (particularly the U.S.) in its politics is problematic; so I do think le Carre and Boorman have a legitimate point.

In sum, this is a fine production, featuring great performances from its entire cast (also including Catherine McCormack as the career diplomat who becomes Osnard's love - err, sex - interest and Daniel Radcliffe, now of "Harry Potter" fame, as Pendel's son) and spellbinding cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, making Panama's lush, tropical setting come to life in all its vibrant facets. Don't be discouraged by the naysayers ... take a look and judge for yourself!

Also recommended:
The Tailor of Panama
Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics)
Prize Possession: The United States Government and the Panama Canal 1903-1979
Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, Updated edition"
The Tailor has a few tricks up his sleeve
Joanna Daneman | Middletown, DE USA | 06/18/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If you are expecting a dark, nervous spy thriller, you'd better look elsewhere. But if you are in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, something darkly humourous, then you may enjoy Tailor of Panama as much as I did.The director, John Boorman, directed Deliverance, and also Excalibur, the Year of Living Dangerously and Zardoz (a futuristic film with Sean Connery in a red loin cloth and a large flying stone head.) So you can see that Boorman can be a bit, well, unusual. In The Tailor of Panama, he takes us for quite a ride.Brosnan plays Andy Osnard, a disgraced spy with a penchant for other men's wives. This peccadillo is gracefully overlooked by the higher-ups until he oversteps himself and goes after another man's mistress. MUCH worse, so Osnard is exiled to crummy Panama, where everthing is for sale and nothing is the real goods. He meets Harry Pendel, ably played by Geoffrey Rush, a tailor to the powerbrokers and ex-con. Osnard drags the hapless tailor into a web of espionage and blackmail. But Pendel has a few tricks up his sleeve.The cast is excellent, and the filming adds an interesting surreal tone by careful control of the lighting. If you are in the mood for something a little different in the spy genre, you might enjoy The Tailor of Panama."
A wickedly sly rich brew of a film
Mary Whipple | 10/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I could see why the film wouldn't appeal to everyone since it is as the Director/ Producer John Boorman described a rather "rich brew". It is at once and in turn is a spy thriller, a black comedy, realistic, fantastical, languid, frenetic, a tragedy and a farce. It's a difficult mixture to balance. Evidently for some it didn't work, but for me it did in spades. Geoffrey Rush is very fine indeed as the Harry Pendel the Tailor who's a dreamer that likes to tailor the truth to make life more beautiful as well as easier. He's at once a good man and a weak man, a poet and a buffoon, and even as his lies are fueled by greed, fear and a need to feel important, they are also fueled by friendship and the overwhelming desire to spin a good yarn and to please (even those he doesn't like). The character is also the vortex for all those above mentioned competing strands. It's a marvelously textured performance. If Harry is the vortex then Brosnan's Osnard is the catalyst, and what a magnificent one he is. He is as advertised a complete and total cad! A machiavellian rotter without conscience or shame (and language to make a sailor blush). He's also a heat seeking missile for information, money and sex... and not necessarily in that order. One reviewer described him as a cobra. It's a perfect description. He's seemingly languid, and it's not just the effortless charm, the devil may care grins but the relaxed body posture, the loose and ill-fitting clothes, the way he flops himself onto couches, hammocks, beds etc. Yet he emanates danger: see how he's always watching, sizing up people for soft spots and weaknesses, always probing for something that will benefit him whether it be information, money or sex (and as I said not always in that order); see the flashes of contempt that wash over his face, his lack of human compassion, and the palpable nastiness when he's about to be thwarted. He is at once repellent and oh so attractive. Bad has never been so beautiful or so appealing. His pursuit and conquest of the embassy aide Francesca (the cooly delicious Catherine McCormack) is of the heat seeking missile variety, emphasis on the heat... it's determined and confident (watch his sublime incredulous reaction when he says "Is that a No?"... as if a no is out of the realm of possibility) while being seemingly effortless, seductive but raw... all sex no romance. She proclaims him the wickedest man she's ever met, and he rightly replies "isn't that the attraction". Osnard doesn't just confine his seductions to Fran, in his own way he's seducing Harry. The pinnacle of which is the uproarious gay dance club scene which really has to be seen to be believed or appreciated. It alone is worth the price of admission. Brosnan manages to be outrageously playful, mock-seductive, and menacing all in the blink of an eye. And Rush's flustered reactions just feed him. I can't even begin to do justice to the meeting with Harry in the brothel as Osnard pumps Harry for info, watches porn, and bounces on the bed after inserting coins for the magic fingers! (oh, small trivia, these scenes were shot in an actual brothel with actual prostitutes. A cousin of someone who worked on the film owned it.) They really work marvelously together. It's one of the great screen relationships in recent (and not so recent) memory. Those going in expecting the romantic or smooth moves of Bond or Thomas Crown will be severely dissapointed. But those open and eager to see Brosnan immersed in playing "the devil" (as Marta calls him) will be delighted. It's evident that Brosnan is having a grand time playing the role and he's a joy to watch in it. Some have described Brosnan's performance as a parody of Bond, but that's doing it an injustice. Osnard isn't just a riff on Bond, he's a unique and distinct creation that Brosnan fully inhabits without ever winking at the audience. He may use audience expectations of his usual good guy roles but that's only to make Osnard's edge sharper and more shocking and not to blunt it's edge. If it seems I've discussed character more than plot and that's because I think the two main characters are the film's strongest point. The others including Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), Francesca (McCormack), Marta (Lenor Varela), Mickie (Brenden Gleason) while interesting exist more to show the facets of the main characters, or as additional threads in a complex web, more than as fully realized stand alone characters. But all of their acting is top-notch as well. It's difficult to discuss the plot without revealing too many plots points, but the plot itself is a rather complex and twisty one where seemingly minor events and characters, farcical and dramatic begin to feed together until the film builds up quite a head of steam. The denouement worked for me even if it did leave quite a few threads dangling and was rather abrupt. There just seemed to be a transition scene missing near the end. Boorman re-shot the ending at a late date and that may be the problem, but I think he was right to do so because the original ending just didn't fit the characters as they played/evolved in the film. The revised ending is more appropriate to the playful dark cynicism of the film. Lastly, if it's an action or straight comedy film you're looking for this isn't it. If it's a richly textured character driven film with dark undertones, and dialogue redolent with a sharp biting wit that rarely is heard in film today, beautifully measured performances, quirky direction, with lush and interesting cinematography showing Panama from inside the actual Presidential Palace to it's brothels to it's canal, then it's a movie you just might enjoy as much as I did."