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With: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe, Catherine McCormack, Harold Pinter
Written by: Andrew Davies, John LeCarre, and John Boorman, based on the novel by John LeCarre
Directed by: John Boorman
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, language and some violence
Running Time: 109
Date: 02/11/2001

The Tailor of Panama (2001)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Spies Like Them

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Boorman's The Tailor of Panama may be hastily labeled a "thriller," and with Pierce Brosnan in the cast, you may think you know what to expect: something along the lines of a James Bond film or 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair. Forget it. This is something far more exciting. I had forgotten that thrillers could possibly be this much fun and rippingly intelligent at the same time.

The movie's main characters, a nervous, charming tailor named Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) and a debonair, devilish British secret agent named Andy Osnard (Brosnan) do lots of things well, but what they do best is lie. Harry lies to cover up his past and to feel better about his present. Osnard lies because the Cold War and is over, and he's looking for... ahem... extracurricular opportunities.

Assigned to keep an eye on the Panama Canal recently handed over the Panamanians, Osnard targets Harry as a man with his finger on the pulse of the country. When Osnard comes into Harry's shop for a suit, Harry begins spinning tremendous whoppers about a non-existent underground resistance, organized after Noriega's fall. While Harry's lies seem vivid and exciting, we're not entirely sure whether or not Osnard believes them himself. Nevertheless, Osnard persuades Harry to join him in his quest and attempts to charm Harry's wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose job gives her access to important Canal documents, out of some information.

Director John Boorman succeeds brilliantly by allowing these tidbits of deceptive information to permeate the film, keeping us on our toes and allowing our brains to tingle. Most Hollywood movies obsess over explaining everything to the audience, who they perceive as dumb. The story and screenplay were written by the great espionage writer John LeCarre (The Russia House), as well as Boorman and Andrew Davies. My only complaint is that the three writers were unable to find a logical conclusion for the story.

But though the movie runs thick in the plot department, it's also cheery and high-spirited as opposed to the deadly serious Cold War thrillers of the past. Boorman uses the tropical locations for a looser and less tidy feel, unlike his previous exotic films The Emerald Forest (1985) and Beyond Rangoon (1995). It's as if not much is at stake anymore, and all this sneaking around and backstabbing is just for fun. As long as we get to have fun too, then let's not let all that good spy training go to waste.

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