The Tailor of Panama ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Tailor of Panama was my first John le Carré adaptation, and later my first le Carré novel, each in 2002. I read the hardback during downtime while visiting my friend, active then in the USAF and stationed at Nellis AFB. I remember watching the movie on DVD on my friend's laptop in a hotel room near Salinas, Kansas, with more than a few drinks of Southern Comfort & Dr. Pepper. I'm reasonably sure it was also the first Geoffrey Rush performance I ever saw. Le Carré, Rush, Vegas, SoCo & Dr. Pepper...these all go together in my world.

Of course, it was Pierce Brosnan's presence that first attracted me to the film. He's a complete bastard here, perhaps the most despicable that he's ever been on-screen. Yet, it had to be Brosnan to play Andy Oxnard, because there are so few actors of his ilk who can play such a schemer without instantly alienating if played too heavily, or going too far over the top. Brosnan strikes the right tone, letting us like Andy just enough early that we let him take the lead.

We see that it's Harry's habitual lying that's getting out of hand, and if push came to shove, Andy would have a legitimate argument that he never put Harry up to fabricating a single thing, but it's also clear that Andy knows what he's really getting from Harry. Brosnan and Rush each hold the screen comfortably anyway, but when they're together, it's magic.

Between the United Kingdom handover of Hong Kong to China, and the United States relinquishing the Panama Canal to Panama, the end of the 20th Century saw two major death blows to the remnants of colonialism. The Tailor of Panama is perhaps the sharpest satire of both these events, as well as the entire colonial system. We see zealots willing to seize the flimsiest of pretexts to rationalize a military strike to claim what they want, and through it all the strain of corruption at every level.

"They got Ali Baba, but they missed the forty thieves," Harry says to Andy. The Tailor of Panama is as much the story of the forty thieves as it is of the titular character, because it's only in the context established by them that his web of lies could have ever taken life.

I tend to have little patience for stories where one unnecessary fabrication spawns and entire, outrageous mess of escalating antics (I despise Mrs. Doubtfire), but it's Brosnan's delicate touch as ring master Andy that makes this work. We realize that he knows Harry's making up everything. Andy's imaginative enough to know how to exploit the situation, but he's too lazy to invent it all on his own.

My chief problem with The Tailor of Panama is that we never see any of the consequences of what happens in the end. Oh, the fun of a pre-9/11 world, when the idea of the United States invading another country and then saying, "Whoops! Sorry 'bout that!" was just a punch line...! (Kudos, incidentally, to Dylan Baker for his brief role as the impassioned general after the 51st star on our flag.)

The Tailor of Panama Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#87/1599)

The Tailor of Panama > Secret Honor --> #87
The Tailor of Panama > Summertime --> #87
The Tailor of Panama > Transformers: Dark of the Moon --> #87
The Tailor of Panama > Lady and The Tramp --> #87
The Tailor of Panama < The Dark Knight --> #87
The Tailor of Panama < Wayne's World --> #87
The Tailor of Panama > Up in the Air --> #68
The Tailor of Panama < Pinocchio --> #68
The Tailor of Panama < Black Swan --> #68
The Tailor of Panama < Wild Things --> #68

The Tailor of Panama was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #68/1599