Rated R - Running Time: 1:49 - Released 3/30/01

The Tailor Of Panama, a delightfully complex spy story directed by John Boorman, includes the talents of Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, and several others, all doing excellent work interpreting the screenplay by Andrew Davies, John Le Carré, and director Boorman (based on Le Carré's book). Although The Tailor may have trouble standing up against some of its higher-profile, bigger-budget competition, it is refreshing to find a film with this kind of respect for the written word and dedication to the subtle intricacies of plot.

The film takes place in 1999 as the U.S. government is about to relinquish control of the Panama Canal, with British intelligence agent Andy Osnard (Brosnan) being sent to Panama City to investigate the political climate there. A few years after the arrest of former president Manuel Noriega by U.S. forces, and with the canal about to be turned over to the local government, Andy's agency is concerned about political upheaval and the possible sale of the canal to a rival country. Seeking someone who knows the ins and outs of the local political atmosphere, Andy finds Harry Pendel (Rush), a tailor who claims to have business associations with a large number of political figures. Besides making clothes for numerous corrupt government leaders, most of whom are Noriega's former underlings still holding the reins of government, he also claims to have ties to a revolutionary group called the "silent opposition." Since Harry's American wife (Curtis) is a highly placed canal official, Andy is all too ready to sit up and take notice, learning the intricate story of opposition leaders Mickie Abraxas (Brendan Gleeson) and Harry's assistant Marta (Leonor Varela), who was disfigured by Noriega's men in a struggle way back when. But as the story builds and Andy becomes more immersed, we begin to learn that neither his nor Harry's agendas are as clear as they first seemed.

This story is certainly complex, sometimes almost too much so for its own good, but the acting of its cast makes all the difference. To be sure, Brosnan is really just offering another modified version of his James Bond, without the gadgets, but the part certainly suits him and he pulls it off easily and with patented if stale charm. Better yet is Rush as the confused, delusional Harry, whose Walter Mitty-style persona and increasingly odd behavior has everyone in a fog. Harry's need to continue the story, despite constant warnings from the ghost of his dear old uncle (played by famous playwright Harold Pinter, no less), is tied up inextricably with the deception he has perpetrated on his loving wife and family, and fueled by Andy's promise to settle an age-old mortgage debt. As Harry's wife, Curtis plays well opposite Rush, essaying a devoted but ever more suspicious partner, intrigued and yet indignant regarding Harry's mysterious new friend. Also deserving note are Gleeson and Varela, who play their supporting roles with sincerity.

But the script and direction are equally important in this film's success, with some very clever situations (like an important conversation between the two leading men occurring atop a vibrating bed) and some interesting cinematic choices. One especially memorable scene has Rush marking and cutting a piece of cloth into a man's jacket before our eyes, practically freehand. The ending, though tragic in a way, is also humorous and satisfying, bringing all the many puzzle pieces into place. Despite its possible trouble making a splash at the box office, The Tailor Of Panama certainly deserves a look. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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