The Tailor of Panama Review

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Corrupt spy Andrew Osnard is stationed in Panama to keep an eye on the political rumblings over the canal. There, he hones in on Harry Pendel, tailor to government officials and rebels alike, a big-hearted man with a dubious past of his own. Both begin to manipulate each other, creating a distortion that has repercussions right the way up to the wings of NATO.


Boorman, once a director of some note, is off the pace with this study of the insidious nature of the spying game. Taking one of the master (le CarrŽ)’s more recent novels and working in the richly lurid setting of Central America with a couple of top-notch actors, could have presented him with strong possibilities. Yet the film, for all its earnestness, snaky comedy, and would-be intelligence, never manages any real fizz.

Amongst all the clandestine goings-on, Brosnan is the stand-out, comfortably subverting his Bond image to create an odious but alluring egotist, a devil always on the make. The opening shot has him standing in the familiar MI6 headquarters, but within a moment the loose attitude, looser neck tie and listless slouch tell you this man is lightyears from 007. Rush doggedly invests Pendel and his secrets with a nervy compassion, a man swamped in his own illusions.

In a bizarre effort to insert the book’s internal dialogue, Harold Pinter keeps popping up as Pendel’s ghostly conscience. The females, however, are mere sideshows: McCormack, as a stuck-up British diplomat, is simply a device to reveal Osnard’s predatory skills, while Lee Curtis, as Pendel’s devoted wife, feels underdeveloped as the moral centre of the film.

Boorman has tonal problems throughout, veering clumsily from quasi-comedy to thriller to an offbeam character study of fractured psyches (a theme typical of the author). It’s hard to register just what the film is getting at.

Le Carré’s books are just too involved and complex to translate satisfyingly to film - they fit the TV serial with aplomb - for squashing all the detail of character and plot into two hours makes for a muddled and inaccessible movie.

Action scenes are at a premium (just a bit of a chase at the close) and there’s lots of tense dialogue, but not enough to explain the sudden shifts in behaviour. There’s too much talent on show not to garner a few sturdy moments, hinting at what could have been, but you’re too busy deciphering the muddle of a plot to soak them up.

Strong performances, an original setting, and an honest attempt to show real spying rather than movie spying, cannot prevail. This is a bit of a drudge throughout - confused, unexciting and over-ambitious.