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Saturday, May 26, 2001

Brosnan is great as a renegade spy

His acting is excellent, but the remainder of the movie needs some work

Contributed photo
Columbia Pictures Geoffrey Rush (left) plays Harry Pendel in the new movie, ‘The Tailor of Panama.’ Pierce Bronsan (right) plays the charming British spy Osnard.
In any town, hairdressers and tailors are the lifelines of gossip and presumably that's why spy novelist John le Carre's made his central character a tailor in "The Tailor Of Panama," now a motion picture that opens today.
   The film tells a doozy of a story, one that involves emergency presidential meetings and the potential sale of the Panama Canal during the post-Noriega late '90s.
   Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) leads two separate lives in Panama City.
   To family and friends, he's a tailor with an upscale clientele, the father of two kids and Louisa's (Jamie Lee Curtis) husband. Hiding in his shady past are forgotten crimes, shrouded time spent behind bars, unruly debts and a history of compulsive lying.
   His dishonesty enables him to marry his wife, the daughter of a prestigious canal engineer, and operate with the noblemen. Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a renegade spy for the British Embassy, knows of Pendel's past and bribes the tailor; Pendel feeds Osnard info about the elite and political, and Osnard pays the tailor's creditors.
   Pendel, who said Panama is "a Casablanca without heroes," does what he does best. He weaves a story for Osnard. It starts small about silent guerrilla operatives and it grows into a saga about the Panama Canal being sold to foreign interests. The fib is fed all the way up the chain to the top politicos in the U.S. and Britain and military branches are told to assemble for a siege on Panama to acquire the U.S.'s 51st state.
   "The Tailor of Panama" has a grabbing premise - whoever controls the canal controls the world's trade and industry - but the characters fall short of living up to the hypothetical historical drama.
   Louisa has the worst dialogue and most unfortunate attributes; she's the power-wielding right-hand woman of the president of the canal authority, yet she shows little intelligence. It doesn't help that flighty Curtis tries to act the role either.
   Brosnan acts the devilish Osnard with a sly wink of an eye; his character's fascination with debauchery and winning people over is perfectly captured by Brosnan, known more as debonair than depraved. And Osnard's innuendo-laden smooth talking displays the only skill and subtlety in the screenplay.
   Rush is given a lot of heavy issues to work with - including an ongoing conversation with his dead Uncle Benny (played gleefully by playwright Harold Pinter) - but disappointingly the usually remarkable Rush seems detached from the role.
   The biggest kudo for "Tailor": Audiences can catch a sneak peek at the next child superstar. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Pendel and Louisa's son, will return in November as the HP-man himself in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at

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