Wednesday, March 28, 2001
John le Carre's spy stories stand as smart, sobering counterpoints to the theme-park thrills of James Bond.
How playfully contrarian, then, that the film adaptation of le Carre's "The Tailor of Panama" co-stars the current Bond, Pierce Brosnan, doing a double-agent twist on 007.
Starring Geoffrey Rush in the title role, the film is a satisfying blend of action, intrigue, snappy dialogue and dark humor. Director John Boorman's pacing is crisp and even, no small achievement considering what a mongrel medley of genres ï¿½ spy caper, political drama, domestic comedy, buddy flick ï¿½ the movie takes on.
Rush plays Harry Pendel, a British expatriate who runs a tailor shop in Panama, a business built less on stitching skills than his talent as a raconteur ï¿½ notably, his fibs about being professional heir to a master Savile Row tailor.
Harry has a happy life with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and children and a reliable circle of friends, acquaintances and customers. But secrets underlie Harry's facade of bliss and prosperity.
Enter Brosnan's Andrew Osnard, a jaded British spy exiled to Panama after flubbing an assignment. Sniffing around for one good score so he can retire in comfort, Osnard catches a whiff of Harry, and the game is afoot.
Osnard quickly dissects Harry's Savile Row pretensions and bullies the tailor into feeding him morsels about the Panama Canal from his clients and his wife, a canal planner.
Trouble is, Harry is unable to glean anything noteworthy. So he concocts ever wilder stories about overseas interests negotiating to buy the canal. Osnard plays along, since the canal tales give him an edge to achieve his financial goals.
Curtis leads the excellent supporting cast with a nice twist of her own on the oblivious housewife she played in "True Lies."
Le Carre, executive producer, shares screenwriting credit with Boorman and Andrew Davies. They've concocted a taut, tart, refreshing representation of what "license to kill" might mean in a world more real and grim than Bond's.