Tailor Made for Brosnan
James Bond gets a little rakish in le Carre's yarn
By Mario M. Muller

“Go ahead. Enjoy my area,” Pierce Brosnan as NOT James Bond in Tailor of Panama.

A good yarn, as in a ripping good yarn, is hard to find. At the precipice of the summer movie season, it is with great pleasure that an intelligent, adult and witty film like The Tailor of Panama should grace our theaters.

In the next couple of months, we will be offered teen-targeted blockbusters with predictable endings and even more predictable narrative conventions. The Tailor of Panama bears neither and therefore is easily one of the more enjoyable filmic two hours that has come along in a long while.

Pierce Brosnan inhabits yet another British spy role as Andy Osnard, a mischievous and more-than-slightly tarnished MI-6 agent with a checkered past. Rather than firing Andy for his multiple indiscretions, the head office sends their black sheep spy to Panama to look after "British interests" as the Panama Canal is deeded back to Panama from American control. It is a de facto exile for the Brosnan character, yet Osnard is determined to go down swinging. Upon arrival, Osnard seeks out locals whom he can hit up for information and thereby impress his superiors and put some shine back on that tarnished spy star that he wears on his sleeve. Osnard is quick to target Harry Pendal (Geoffrey Rush), an Irish/Jewish ex-con who has refashioned himself as a tailor to the rich and politically powerful of Panama. It is Osnard's assumption that, much like an analyst becomes a confidant to his clients, so too could Harry have access to information that Andy may deem vital and impressive. The blithe and feckless agent emotionally blackmails Harry into his service by holding his past over him. It seems that dear Harry has built his new life in Panama, which includes a wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and two kids, by misrepresenting his past to those closest to him. Harry is also strapped for cash so Osnard insinuates himself on Harry's two weaknesses, pride and greed.

As the emotional thumbscrews get tightened, Harry lets fly with stories that throw fuel on Osnard's flames of self-importance and grandeur. The hitch is that several, if not all of these stories are fanciful fabrication on Harry's part, thereby reflecting his own self-importance and grandeur. The lies start spinning out of control until the consequences of untruth grow to political and mythic proportions.

Lest you think that this narrative outline reveals too much of the plot, the film is rich with subtleties, twists, and subtexts that could fill volumes of critical writing. Indeed, text is the root of the word textile and it seems a fitting analogy, for no one is better at weaving intricate narratives into a strong fabric of a story than John Le Carré. The much acclaimed master of the spy novel, who co-wrote the delicious screenplay based on his novel along with director John Boorman and Andrew Davies, has fashioned a hugely satisfying yarn with characters both sympathetic and smarmy.

It has been offered of late that Pierce Brosnan has pigeon holed his career into the 007 archetype and this would be lamentable if, and only if, he didn't do such a damn good job. Certainly his turn as the suave martini swilling CEO/thief in The Thomas Crown Affair bore these same attributes. But why are critics so quick to punish focus over diversity? Seldom, if ever, was there a literary critic who called for John Le Carré to write a gothic love story. The dark side of Osnard is a significant shift of character for Brosnan and he does an excellent job of luring both the audience and Harry into his hubristic web. Geoffrey Rush maintains his steamroller momentum as the most consummate character actor today. His hapless and endearing nature is the perfect foil for Osnard's manipulations. And Jamie Lee Curtis, although she is given precious little to do here that furthers the narrative path, is nonetheless perfect as the devoted and intelligent wife who inspires loyalty and love. Ms. Curtis still bears all of the sexy confidence, which launched her career, but now in a mature and mellowed incarnation.

It is regrettable that an intelligent and suspenseful film such as this will not reach a wider audience. No doubt the studio system is at fault since executives in Hollywood are deer in headlights when it comes to promoting vastly entertaining yet intelligent fare. Originally slated for a December 2000 release, the film is up against the adolescent and hormonally stoked expectations of the summer set. (The ultimate irony is that Tailor has more sex than the strangely neutered Driven, which ruled the box office last week.) Consider The Tailor of Panama welcome relief for the thinking person's film fan base. In this demographic, the film bears the same satisfaction as David Mamet's Wag the Dog. One can only hope that The Tailor of Panama will find its sure-to-be devoted audience either in its expected limited theatrical release or in the racks of the video stores.