Brosnan too suave by half

The Tailor Of Panama

Derek Malcolm in Berlin

Screened at Berlin (Panorama). Dir: John Boorman. US-Ireland. 2001. 111mins.

Rumours that the ending of The Tailor Of Panama was changed so that Pierce Brosnan's spy doesn't get killed but flies off instead towards a prosperous future hints at what is wrong with this quick-paced, but undistinguished, John Boorman version of John Le Carre's ironic tale. It's perhaps because Brosnan can't seem to muster more than a very gentle parody of his 007 persona that it must have been thought he was too charming a rogue to kill.

On the page, however, Le Carre's version of Andy Osnard is by no means all smoothness and charm. He's a mendacious, double-dealing - if clever - little spy who is prepared to betray his employers, his friends and certainly any woman he cares to bed, for more money in his bank account. Of course, in the film he would have to have some charm or it would risk revolving around a central character with whom nobody could identify. But Brosnan, even when lecherously watching porno on a vibrating bed or attempting to seduce the faithful wife of the tailor of the title seems just too suave for the Le Carre equation. If he is likely to give the film its commercial appeal, he's not quite the man to give Andy's desperate seediness its edge.

Too often, this breezy projection of the book lacks atmosphere and tension, as if thrown together hurriedly without quite enough money. Its main strength, however, lies in Le Carre, Boorman and Andrew Davies' screenplay which carries it along better than anything else and gives the likes of Geoffrey Rush (the tailor), Jamie Lee Curtis (miscast as his wife) and Catherine McCormack (an embassy squeeze) good opportunities to shine.

Andy gets sent to Panama to keep him out of the way, meets the ex-jailbird Rush lording it as a Saville Row exile and presses him to tell what he knows about Panamanian corruption. Clearly, they got Ali Baba but not the 40 thieves and, with Noriega out of the way, his henchmen can still play. But Andy presses him too far and the tailor spins a tale that might just make him a fortune. It is that there's a plan to sell the Canal - but a liberation movement is ready to strike. Andy figures that if London and Washington know this in time, he will also make a fortune.

Needless to say, the plot goes badly awry, chiefly because the corruption and decay stretches too far to allow the two crooks to both bring their plans to fruition. "This is Panama," someone says, "where no good deed goes unpunished."

The trouble is we don't see many good deeds around. What we do see is some decent playing from the leads, a plot of considerable cunning and a film-maker running with some determination. Boorman clearly likes the jokes best and it is difficult not to agree with him, and The Tailor From Panama is most fun on that level

Prod cos:Johnford Ltd, Ardmore Studios. Dist:Columbia TriStar. Prod: John Boorman. Scr: John Boorman, Andrew Davies and John Le Carre, from Le Carre's book. Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot. Ed:Ron Davis. Prod des:Derek Wallace. Main cast:Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Catherine McCormack, John Fortune, Harold Pinter, David Hayman