John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama is an extraordinary thriller. Based on John Le Carre’s novel of the same name, The Tailor of Panama is a post cold war spy flick about temptation, desire, and redemption.
Andrew Osnard, interestingly played by Pierce Bronsan, is a British Intelligence agent, who has been exiled to Panama until further notice. Osnard seeks personal gain in the areas of women and money. And becoming a respected MI-6 operative is the last thing on his list. Rumors surface about the fate of the Panama Canal once it leaves United States control, and this debunked agent seeks a perfect opportunity for his own satisfaction.
Osnard needs some assistance however, so he recruits British ex-con and title character, Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) to do his dirty work: spying. Pendel, who learned tailoring in prison, operates Pendel & Braithwaite where he clothes Panama’s elite. Pendel, who is in trouble with bad investments (he used his wife’s inheritance), is in desperate need for redemption. And as the saying goes, desperate needs call for desperate measures and so Osnard’s offer could not have come at a more opportune time.
Pendel creates a variety of fibs to feed Osnard’s cause as well as his own. The tailor hints to Osnard the possibilities of another country taking over the canal or even a more outlandish ploy, Pendel creates a fictional faction called the “silent opposition.” Pendel even resorts to spying on his wife, Louisa Pendel (Jamie Lee Curtis), who works closely with the Panama Canal.
Pendel’s tangled web leads to threats, mistrusts, and tension, but not enough for the audience to care about the characters. The Tailor of Panama never really takes on a truly serious note, it remains a satirical piece of work. Referring to a corrupt Central American government, Harry Pendel eloquently states “Welcome to Panama…a Casablanca without heroes.”
This low-key thriller has many exciting elements. The cinematography is excellent. Panama is depicted as a seductive city full of surprises. The acting is also worth noting. Geoffery Rush masters another character along with Pierce Bronsan whose coy performance as Andrew Osnard is fascinating to watch.
The impressive acting doesn’t match up with the plot. The plot is extremely slow and lacks the twists and turns some will expect from a thriller. The lack of a strong climax is slightly disappointing.
Furthermore, The Tailor of Panama is another thriller that features women as inactive and complacent. Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, similar to her character in True Lies, is an uninformed wife of a husband who is a spy.
For those expecting car chases, fight scenes, and high-tech gadgets, Spy Kids may tailor to your needs but those expecting a witty, entertaining, slash at mainstream films, The Tailor of Panama is a perfect fit.