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THE TAILOR OF PANAMA

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Brendan Gleeson
Director:  John Boorman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 (English and French)
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Subtitles:  English, French
Studio:  Columbia Tri-Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  128 minutes
Release Date:  September 11, 2001

“Welcome to Panama.  A Casablanca without heroes.”

Film ***1/2

If a survey were taken of who was the most influential person ever involved with the spy genre, the most likely choice would be English author Ian Fleming.  Fleming, after establishing the character of James Bond in his 1952 novel Casino Royal, would go on to find unbelievable success and would move the spy genre from its pulp novel roots into the mainstream.  Because of that popularity, when one thinks of spy films today, it undoubtedly conjures up Bond-esque images of sophisticated gadgetry, luxurious vehicles, and gorgeous women with sexually provocative names.

John Le Carré's Tailor of Panama is a far cry from such typical spy fare.  The story begins with MI6 agent Andy Osnard (Brosnan), being relegated to the small British embassy in Panama, having been sent there as punishment for debts, blowing his cover, and sleeping with the foreign minister's mistress.  Realizing that his career is coming to an end, he looks through the list of British citizens living in Panama, so he can manipulate one into doing his bidding, and finds (you guessed it), a tailor in Panama.  Tailor Harry Pendel (Rush) is somewhat easily taken in as Osnard's spy, as he enjoys what initially feels like an adventure from his sedentary life of clothes making, and enjoys weaving lies, an ability much needed for the job.

The film's power lies in its departure from the overused spy pictures that play out like action films.  As in the book, from which the movie derived, Tailor of Panama relies on more reality based concepts in its storylines.  The villain is not some evil despot in black wishing to take over the world, or the head of some secret conspiracy that executes its dissenting members with sharks; rather the true villains in the story are what motivate people to do evil.    Set in Panama, a beautiful paradise yet virtual cesspool of drug running and arms trading, greed, corruption, deception, hate, and fear all play their respective roles as the true instigators that place each character in peril. 

Pendel, although a good man at heart, is somewhat of an anti-hero, as when confronted with a choice of right or wrong, he is often tempted into choosing, no matter how good his intentions, the wrong thing.   

In the end though, this is a relatively decent film with some great performances.  Rush and Brosnan seem very at ease with each other, and their respective roles, which is key to a film that is more dialogue-oriented and cerebral like this one.  Their performances are usually dead on, especially Rush's, who is delightful in his ability to completely con everyone around him, yet not turn the audience against him for it.  Moreover, I appreciated Brosnan slight deviation from the norm, as he usually plays the heroic James Bond while here he seems to relish being an unscrupulous schemer.  

In the end, this is a terrific story on the competing mind games of two very good con men, and their role in the events that quickly spiral out of control. 

Video ***

Although the video is generally good, I was surprised that this film was not at the typical level of excellence exhibited by Columbia.  Scenes in the dark are occasionally cloudy, as the black levels seem a bit too much.  Other than that, the video transfer is well done; the outdoor scenes generally reveal a crispness to them that shows off the lush tapestry of the Panamanian paradise.               

Audio ***1/2

Although this is a generally dialogue driven piece, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is still very lively when it needs to be.  There are moments of loud action which pan across the speakers easily; as well, the score is often a presence and moves about the speakers.  All in all, a reasonably good track, ‘nuff said.

Supplements  ***1/2

First on the disc was a director's commentary with Director John Boorman.  Boorman provides an informative, if not somewhat eccentric commentary on the film, discussing topics that ranged from bringing back certain curse words into the vernacular, and pointing out the young actor who will be playing the role of Harry Potter, in the upcoming film. 

Next was the approximately 23 minute “The Perfect Fit: A conversation with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush.”  This is a good interview, and thankfully not just a promotional EPK film, as the stars discussed working with each other and their different acting methods, in addition to working with the director.                                                                                               

Another good inclusion is the alternate ending, which the actors said the studio thought was way too heavy handed.  For once, I'm glad the studios interfered, as the ending isn't nearly as good as the final version (though at least it's not as bad as the one they planned for Independence Day…shudder).  Rounding out the disc are the typical trailers, in this case, the film and the recent Rush work Les Miserables, and filmographies.    

Summary:

Speckled with some good humor and a moving spy plot, in addition to a relatively good transfer and ample supplements, this is one worth picking up.