The Devil and Mr. Bond

Tailor of Panama
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Directed by John Boorman. Rated R.
Rated 3.0 It may seem a no-win situation when you’ve got Pierce Brosnan playing a distinctively sleazy version of a James Bond type in a political thriller. But that’s part of what you get in John Boorman’s film version of the John LeCarré novel, The Tailor of Panama, and the results are more winning than you might expect.

It is, after all, a LeCarré story, and so sleaze, deception, disillusionment, and outright corruption are powerful ingredients amid the adventures in modern-day espionage. And Boorman, Brosnan, and Geoffrey Rush (who plays the title role) seem keenly attuned to the most urgent ironies in the material. It’s not a spoof of James Bond so much as a scathing look at the aftermath of an episode from recent history—the Bush invasion of Panama, in fact.

Rush plays an expatriate British tailor with a shady past, and Brosnan is a suavely unscrupulous MI6 operative who puts heavy pressure on him to produce inside information from and about the Panamanian movers and shakers who are his chief customers. What ensues is a sardonically suspenseful tale in which the market in political secrets becomes so lucrative that the spy’s “sources” (including Rush’s tailor) are driven to concoct extravagantly fictitious accounts of behind-the-scenes political scheming.

The lunacies of post-Cold War foreign policy are one of the story’s juiciest subjects, but Boorman’s film is at its best with its two main characters—the frantically rationalized desperation of the tailor and the diabolical, slick-as-shit manipulations of Michael Osnard (Brosnan).

Boorman and Brosnan may have given us the most trenchant movie Devil since Hannibal Lecter committed metaphorical rape and seduction on Jody Foster in The Silence of the Lambs—perhaps even more trenchant given the potential for re-visioning of James Bond himself as more demon than superhero.