The Emperor's New Clothes

What happens when a spy confuses fact with fiction?

In "The Tailor Of Panama", based on a John le Carre novel, Pierce Brosnan stars as Andy Osnard, a British spy exiled to Panama as punishment for his past sins. Osnard, initially unenthusiastic about the posting, soon perks up when he realizes that Panama is like a Wild West outpost - crime and corruption are rampant, bribery the accepted method of doing business, and drug trafficking, prostitution and murder commonplace.

Wily and dangerously seductive, Osnard begins to look for a way to make some quick cash for himself, while simultaneously pleasing his Whitehall masters. He finds both in Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a former convict who has now reinvented himself as the grandest tailor in Panama. Pendel's clients include business leaders, newspaper reporters, politicians and resistance fighters, making him a valuable source of information and the perfect person to head Osnard's new spy network. Using a combination of bribery and charm, Osnard persuades Pendel to begin providing him with information on top-secret news and documents, offering him money and information in return.

There's only one flaw here: Pendel, a storyteller extraordinaire, is frequently amusing himself by sending Osnard false information. And as fact and fiction collide in a spectacular climax, the only ones left standing will be those who know the most important truth about espionage: it's a game with flexible rules...

Well-directed by John Boorman, "The Tailor Of Panama" starts out slow but soon builds up speed with some interesting twists and turns. While the original novel is adhered to, the director and screenwriter have taken some liberties with the plot to simplify the story; this is not really noticeable unless you've also read the book, and does not detract from the film.

Both Brosnan and Rush give good performances, playing off each other's talents, while Jamie Lee Curtis is fair as Pendel's American wife. Much attention has been paid to the production, and to evoking the spirit of Panama; John Boorman has placed his shots well, and does a good job of portraying the anything-goes nature of the country. All in all, a fairly good yarn for a Saturday evening.

This article was first published on 20 Jun 2001.