The Tailor of Panama DVD review

Film / Video Reviews
The Tailor of Panama DVD review
By
Sep 11, 2001, 23:22

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THE TAILOR OF PANAMA directed by John Boormann; Columbia Pictures DVD, 2001

This film, based on a John Le Carre novel, strikes a tenuous tone between an unsentimental view of governmental dirty work, and a surreal absurdity akin to mid-50s Ealing Studios comedies like The Man in the White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob. Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) is a mild-mannered British expatriate fitting expensive suits for the Panamanian political elite. With none but the best intentions, he's surreptitiously blown his wealthy wife's fortune on the Panamanian equivalent of Green Acres. A white knight arrives in the form of disgraced spy Andrew Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) who offers cash for juicy gossip about his patrons. Pendel's no traitor, so he concocts fanciful stories to throw Osnard off the trail. But he embroiders his elaborate falsehoods to the point where Panama's national security is threatened. In their convoluted scramble to the climax of the movie, and an ending that combines the heartwarming and the cynical, both men manage something of a victory—by their own radically different standards. Veteran filmmaker John Boorman (Deliverance, Hope and Glory) tells the tale in an efficient and colorful, if brusque, way. The Panamanian pols are all slick and greedy, the rebels heroic and wounded (either physically or mentally), and the ambassadors culturally clueless, calculatingly greedy, or both. A heavy directorial hand makes plot points about faulty intelligence and ill-planned out international attacks seem more far-fetched than they are (and these days, that's saying something). And more exposition might have helped the film pull off its uneasy mix of, in Geoffrey Rush's words, “spy film/comedic farce/domestic drama” more convincingly. But the acting throughout is steady, and sometimes excellent. The character of Pendel really is a goody two-shoes despite his blemished pedigree, but Rush manages to inject ambiguity in his performance. Jamie Lee Curtis works similar magic with the sketchy character of Pendel's loyal wife Luisa; conveying sorrow with a slow blink, despair with a pursed mouth. Pierce Brosnan takes a rapacious glee in the unabashedly venal character of Osnard, acting out the characters multitudinous sins with loads more gusto, sensuality and sly humor than the Bond movies allow him. When he leers seductively at the voluptuous Luisa, the movie threatens to ignite in the DVD player. There's not as many moments like that as there should be in this picture, considering the personnel, but The Tailor of Panama is still the kind of modestly scaled, slightly flawed, highly entertaining movie that used to help you kill entire afternoons watching Bravo and A&E before they got bought out by the major networks. The DVD has some useful extras—a chatty interview with Rush and Brosnan dissecting the casting process and LeCarre's book, and a scrapped alternate ending, complete with Boorman's wise rationale for the decision.

-Cecile

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