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John LeCarre's spy thriller is brought to the big screen. A British spy is banished to Panama after having an affair with an ambassador's mistress. Once there he makes connection with a local tailor with a nefarious past and connections to all of the top political and gangster figures in Panama. The tailor also has a wife, who works for the Panamanian president and a huge debt. The mission is to learn what the President intends to do with the Panama Canal. But what the two do is concoct a tremendous fictional tale about former mercenaries who are ready to topple the current government and are willing to work with Britain and the US to do so. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In `The Tailor of Panama,' Pierce Brosnan plays a sort of evil version of his James Bond persona, a womanizing British spy more concerned with his own personal aggrandizement than with duty to queen and crown and all those virtues we, parochially, tend to think of as uniquely `Western' - virtues like liberty, freedom and democracy.
Based on John Le Carre's novel of the same name, `The Tailor of Panama' is not quite so positive in its assessment of the West's innate benevolence. It is, in fact, an attack on the evils of the modern nation-building process, wherein developed countries like the United States and Great Britain engage in all sorts of covert skullduggery in an effort to protect their own strategic interests in the Third World community. If this involves propping up or installing immoral regimes - or toppling potentially moral ones - that, as Le Carre sees it, is all part of the game we naively call `international diplomacy.'
The setting of the film is Panama City right after the takeover of the canal by the Panamanians. Fearful that its interests might soon be threatened, the British government sends one of its own secret agents, Andy Osnard, to ferret out some British citizen who may have contacts with the authorities in the city and may, therefore, be privy to information pertinent to their concerns. Andy alights on Harry Pendel, a good-natured, idealistic tailor who does, indeed, seem to have some entree with the higher-ups in the local government. Harry also happens to be married to Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), who actually works supervising the canal, so, of course, Harry can be quite an informative source of information if he happens to put his mind to it. Andy, knowing that Harry has a few major debts to pay off, moves in for the kill and engages Harry's efforts. The only problem is that Harry, beyond being impeccably moral, also loves to spin a fantastic yarn or two, and Andy has to figure out whether the information Harry is feeding him is really the truth or just the product of an overactive imagination.
The complexity of the plotting works both for and against the film. On the one hand, the audience has a fun time following the narrative along its complicated mazelike path, meeting interesting people and visiting unusual sites along the way. Moreover, we are afforded a fascinating glimpse into the sleazy world of backstage nation-building in a so-called `Banana Republic.' On the other hand, we often find ourselves a bit confused as to the why and wherefore of many of the actions, and, far worse, the movie never establishes enough of a quality of credibility to make us believe it all. This is certainly the case in the film's final stretches when the too-easily duped U.S. and British governments launch an all-out attack on the city based on only the flimsiest of evidence. Yet, perhaps, that is Le Carre (and director John Boorman's) thesis: that such takeovers are often rooted in causes that are circumstantial, prefabricated or totally beside the point. If this is the case, both the writer and the director have failed to create the tone necessary to pull off such a sophisticated idea. For, although there are flashes of sharp humor shot throughout the entire film, the general ambience is never far-out and witty enough for us to classify the work as satirical. As a result, the final scenes seem somehow more silly than provocative.
This is not, however, to suggest that `The Tailor of Panama' is not a worthwhile and interesting film. In fact, it succeeds almost on the strength of its performances alone. Brosnan does a superb job poking fun at his signature spy persona, as he utilizes his trademark suavity to get exactly what he wants - be it information, a load of cash, or a roll in the hay with a gorgeous female companion. As the title character, Geoffrey Rush delivers yet another outstanding performance, somehow managing to make Harry seem both incredibly weak and amazingly strong at the same time. In fact, Rush, quite literally, carries this film, earning the audience's sympathy from beginning to end. Curtis turns in her usual fine performance, although her role seems a bit undernourished compared to those of the two male leads.
`The Tailor of Panama,' although ultimately unsatisfying, comes pretty damn close to being a worthwhile success.
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