Somebody told Pierce Brosnan to change his image.
In The Tailor of Panama -- based on John Le Carré's novel and directed by John Boorman (Beyond Rangoon, Zardoz) -- Brosnan trades in the sophistication of James Bond for the identity of crude, disgraced spy Andy Osnard, an MI-6 operative that has to be shipped off to Panama on account of his loathsome behavior. Once he arrives in Panama City, the bad behavior doesn't stop: Osnard immediately sets upon the task of uncovering "what's going on" with the Panama Canal. Rumors swirl that it will be sold to another country now that Panama has it back from the U.S. Or perhaps there will be a coup from a populist underground?
Osnard's first task is to hook up with an informant, and he quickly ferrets out that Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush -- Shine, Quills) is not the mild-mannered expatriate tailor he pretends to be. Not only does he serve as the tailor for virtually everyone in Panamanian society (including the President), he also has a past that includes a stint in prison.
Stricken with financial troubles, Pendel uses Osnard as much as Osnard uses him. Andy pays the tailor for information gleaned from his government clients. Pendel, a peon in their eyes, simply makes stuff up in order to get the payoffs.
Of course, this spirals out of control until a real crisis develops -- but who knows how far it will go, all based on the lies of a lowly tailor?
To be honest, who cares? The outrageous and wholly unbelievable plot developments of The Tailor of Panama are hardly its selling points. Instead, it's fun to delight in the performance of Brosnan as a borderline bad guy -- an unrepentant lech who spews invective and innuendo at every turn. Rush's character, playing opposite him in virtually half the movie, blurts his responses out well enough so that he just about keeps pace with Osnard. Their interchanges are fun, and the opposite actors work well onscreen together.
Less interesting but also worthy are the supporting players, including Jamie Lee Curtis (somewhat miscast as Pendel's brazen wife), Catherine McCormack, and Brendan Gleeson -- all pawns in the various plots going on. Boorman's direction is vintage Boorman -- which is to say, there isn't much of it, but at least it doesn't get in the way.
The Tailor of Panama is hardly a great movie -- but maybe it's because it's just too soon for Noriega-era nostalgia. I mean, we're only on our second President Bush. But if it were 20 years later, or if the plot were a little more straightforward or if they picked up the pace, would it really have mattered? I doubt it; ultimately, The Tailor of Panama is no more unlikely a tale than your typical Bond movie -- it's just a lot less fun.
Rush and Brosnan get a little closer.