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'Tailor' Stylish Despite Dropping a Few Stitches

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2001


    'The Tailor of Panama' Jamie Lee Curtis and Pierce Brosnan star in "The Tailor of Panama." (Columbia Pictures)
Even when a John Boorman film doesn't completely work, it's absorbing. Despite a dissatisfying conclusion, a sense that things don't completely jell, "The Tailor of Panama" is lively and provocative.

There are several reasons. No. 1 is Boorman's one-of-a-kind direction. The filmmaker of "The General," "Hope and Glory," "Leo the Last" and "Point Blank" always manages to get in his special licks. It's obvious that there's slightly more to this picture than a mere adaptation of a John Le Carre novel.

Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), an agent with the British secret service, has been assigned to Panama as some sort of punishment. Getting into trouble with women seems to be the main reason.

His job is to get the lay of the land in post-1999 Panama (when the Panama Canal has been restored to the locals) and identify likely candidates for a more democratic, West-friendly government.

Andy selects Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a British tailor who makes Savile Row suits for Panama's ruling class, as his contact. He figures Harry knows all the gossip and intrigue and starts paying off the tailor's debts right away. Through Harry, Andy meets an obvious presidential candidate, Mickie Abraxas (Brendan Gleeson), a former revolutionary who's not afraid to stand up to Panama's drug-financed powers.

Also figuring in the story are Marta (Leonor Varela), Harry's assistant, a political radical whose face has been disfigured by the fascist authorities; Francesca (Catherine McCormack), Andy's new co-worker at the British Embassy and a prime target for his sexual fun and games; and Louisa Pendel (Jamie Lee Curtis), Harry's wife, who becomes justifiably suspicious about Andy's motives.

The screenplay seems to draw equally from Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" and the movie "Casablanca," with its depiction of a fascist, corrupt state, in which jaded expatriates commingle with generals at cocktail parties, while war (in this case, the impending threat of American invasion) rumbles in the background.

The "Havana" angle kicks in when Harry, forced to feed Andy something for all that informant money, starts to make up things about a "Silent Opposition." London and Washington suddenly prick up their ears.

Boorman, who scripted this with Le Carre{acute} and Andrew Davis, makes "The Tailor of Panama" seem like an old-fashioned Hollywood romp, along the lines of John Huston's "Beat the Devil," where the actors seem to be having something of a busman's holiday playing the characters.

Brosnan impishly spreads his wings beyond 007's limited span. What a treat of a cad he is here, roguishly seducing women for the sheer hell of it. Clearly he was cast to turn his James Bond persona on its suave ear.

Gleeson, the stunning star of Boorman's underappreciated "The General," makes a colorful, Falstaffian Panamanian who accidentally becomes Washington's great hope for the democratic future. And Rush, though never a performer to completely win an audience's heart, is quite convincing as a tailor caught in political hot water.

And to round off the film's good points, Philippe Rousselot's cinematography is fabulous; Panama seems crystalline and sharply etched, even its drab slums. With the performers in riotous full swing and the images such a treat for the eyes, you're hard-pressed to dislike the movie, even when it – like Panama City – goes up in flames.

"The Tailor of Panama" (R, 109 minutes) – Contains obscenity, nudity, sex scenes and violence.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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