Retro Review: Tailor of Panama

Director John Boorman’s co-wrote and directs a tale of conspiracy, lies, and corruption.

Based on the John Le Carre novel, the film follows Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a very reluctant British tailor working in Panama is approached by Andy Osnard, a suave and scheming British spy (Pierce Brosnan). Deeply in debt and harboring a dark shattered past, Harry has no choice but to bend to the spy’s wishes. The spy promises him money if he can let him in on the secrets of the Panama. Harry tells the spy of the conspiracy surrounding the Panama Canal and the elusive Panamanian underground.

Bells go off in Harry’s head as he dreams of the money and helping his friends get out of theirs. Harry’s stories get wilder and more detailed every time the spy and him meet. The trouble really begins in fact all Harry’s news and information is all a fabrication. How will Harry get out of this mess and will this scheming spy be able to make the fortune of his dreams off the fake information?

The Tailor of Panama reminded me a lot of a David Mamet project. Where the dialogue and humor is in the forefront of a very interesting plot. The texture and feel of the film is rich and detailed which also reminded me a lot of the David Mamet project, “The Spanish Prisoner.”

I deeply enjoyed Tailor of Panama on a mental level in that we really get connected to characters and the film’s dialogue. In some ways we even like the despicable spy, which is difficult in a film of this kind.

When I went into the film, I was told that this was a huge departure for Brosnan as he was now playing a jerk, schemer and manipulator. But from the first scene its almost like we are transported into the beginning of a James Bond film where Bond always meets with M.

As Brosnan’s new spy, Andy Osnard lands in Panama, the actor slowly reveals the real personality behind this very different spy. I liked how Brosnan keeps the same body posture, wit and look of Bond even when his new character is at its worst.

His performance is subtle but played with panache. Osnard is almost what Bond would be if he had no morals or had never got over the death of his wife. Its amazing how subtle the difference is between the two and Brosnan pulls it off so brilliantly.

I also liked how screenwriter played off Bond’s ladies man mentality and allowed Osnard to develop love-hate relationships with women and totally feel at home in a sleezy whorehouse.

Like Brosnan’s Osnard, Rush plays Harry Pendel subtly as well. Harry isn’t a very courageous man and Rush seems to relish in that very part of the character. He is great here as well. Rush is such a marvelous actor.

One last thing as a bit of trivia, when Harry goes to meet Osnard in the whorehouse all the women in the scene are actual Panamanian prostitutes. Director Boorman had to make a deal with a Panamanian liaison officer’s uncle and the brothel owner before filming at that location. Amazing what these filmmakers have to go through.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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