Main cast: Pierce Brosnan (Andrew Osnard), Geoffrey Rush (Harold “Henry” Pendel), Jamie Lee Curtis (Louisa Pendel), Leonor Varela (Marta), Brendan Gleeson (Michelangelo Abraxas), Catherine McCormack (Francesca Deane), David Hayman (Luxmore), and Harold Pinter (Uncle Benny)
Director: John Boorman
Just because Pierce Brosnan plays a spy in The Tailor of Panama, don’t expect him to be James Bond all over again. He plays the really nasty, really evil agent Andrew “Andy” Osnard in this splendidly evil adaptation of John Le Carré’s bestseller of the same name. But ah, you get to see more of him, if you know what I mean, than you will ever see in a PG-13 James Bond movie. Oh yai yai.
Andy is a recently exiled British MI-6 agent to post-Noriega era Panama after a hushed-up diplomatic embarrassment involving Andy and some powerful ruler’s mistress. Ah, he loves it when he realizes that Panama is a hotbed for corruption. He bribes debt-ridden tailor Harold “Henry” Pendell into aiding him gather any important information that will be Andy’s ticket out of Panama.
Henry may be a tailor, but he clothes all the most powerful figures in Panama, hence Andy’s viewing him as a key informant figure. At first he is wary, but Andy threatens to blackmail him with some secrets Henry wanted his wife Louisa to remain ignorant of. Such as how Henry is not a Saville Row tailor but an ex-con who has fabricated his entire “respectability”. He also gets greedy from the money Andy offers, and intoxicated by the intrigue, he spins a complete BS of a story involving the “Silent Opposition” of Panama involving his unsuspecting friends Mickey, a broken ex-revolutionary who seeks solace in alcohol, and Marta, also a former revolutionary fighter now working as Henry’s assistant.
He never counted on Andy’s own unscrupulousness to cause his web of lies to spiral out of control. Soon the entire US-Panama relation is in jeopardy, no thanks to Henry’s lie that Panama is selling the canal to Chinese/Japanese/Koreans/whoever.
And ooh, Pierce Brosnan. Ouch. It is such a change to see him play a rat. This is a man who uses women like toys but oh, his love, okay, sex scenes with the icy Catherine McCormack are hot, and the way he comes on to everyone from Louisa to Marta to – I’m not joking – Henry make his Andy seductively compelling villain. It’s just his personality is so repulsive at the same time that it’s like watching a train wreck. Likewise, Jamie Lee Curtis does a great job as Louisa, the sober, serious foil to Henry’s BS personality.
Geoffrey Rush did a great job too as Henry, but the key weakness in this story is that it expects me to see Henry as the good guy to root for. Unfortunately, Henry, oh, I hardly knew ye. Yes, he has secrets and yes, he loves his wife and kids, and he has been scarred from Noriega’s rule too, but still, all these factors never gel together to give a coherent personality. I never exactly manage to view Henry as a sympathetic person. He’s more like a bag of smarm with instant humanity thrown in in the last leg of the movie. The more compelling Marta and Mickey are easier to sympathize, but their roles are merely one-dimensional martyrs. Hence, there’s really nobody to root for in The Tailor of Panama because these characters aren’t there to engage my emotions. Just my thrill at seeing Andy and Henry’s lies spinning out of control, and the way the movie uses clever, naughty, very British humor to drive home the punchlines.
This movie is a very good, very well-done, and very smart spy caper. It winks at me playfully even as it gives its characters a hard kick in the groin. In short, a perfect movie to enjoy one’s sadistic thrills at seeing losers like Henry gets pissed all over by smart, evil bastards like Andy. Andy’s my evil boyfriend now.