John le Carre

The Tailor of Panama (2001, John Boorman)

While The Tailor of Panama is on firm ground in and of itself, it’s difficult not to think about in the context of James Bond. Pierce Brosnan plays a brutal, womanizing British secret agent and sort of gives cinema it’s only realistic Bond movie.

Of course, mentioning James Bond is something to get out of the way with Panama, because it’s not a commentary on the film series. Brosnan does a great job with thoroughly unlikable character. He never humanizes the character, making all his shocking behavior continuously reprehensible. Boorman and Brosnan create incredible discomfiture.

Brosnan shares the lead with Geoffrey Rush, who’s the opposite. He’s lovable, partially because he’s not very bright. Rush is great too. There aren’t any bad performances in Panama. Most of them are exceptional–Brendan Gleeson, David Hayman, Leonor Varela. Martin Ferrero is wondrously odious in a small part and Harold Pinter’s hilarious in his cameo role. Oh, and so’s Dylan Baker. Boorman casted the film well.

As the love interests, Jamie Lee Curtis and Catherine McCormack are probably the least impressive. Both are quite good, but there isn’t enough space for them to get the screen time they need.

Panama is packed. It maintains a good pace throughout; the third act full of subtle, difficult content. The script’s outstanding.

Philippe Rousselot’s rich photography is an asset to the film. Ron Davis’s editing is sublime.

Great costumes, which a film with Tailor in the title probably needs, from Maeve Paterson.

Panama‘s rich, but easily digestible.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Boorman; screenplay by Andrew Davies, John le Carré and Boorman, based on the novel by le Carré; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Ron Davis; music by Shaun Davey; production designer, Derek Wallace; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Andy Osnard), Geoffrey Rush (Harry), Jamie Lee Curtis (Louisa), Brendan Gleeson (Mickie Abraxas), Catherine McCormack (Francesca Deane), Leonor Varela (Marta), Martin Ferrero (Teddy), David Hayman (Luxmore), Jon Polito (Ramón Rudd), Mark Margolis (Rafi Domingo), Dylan Baker (General Dusenbaker), Ken Jenkins (Morecombe), Jonathan Hyde (Cavendish), Paul Birchard (Joe), Harry Ditson (Elliot), John Fortune (Maltby), Martin Savage (Stormont) and Harold Pinter (Uncle Benny).


The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles)

With two major exceptions, The Constant Gardener is defined by what it is not rather than what it is… It is not a thriller, it is not a mystery, it might not even be a narrative. It is a (justified) condemnation of Western pharmaceutical companies–with Western government’s express permission–treatment of sick African peoples. It’s also a masterfully made film; Fernando Meirelles probably makes two errors throughout. Besides the wonderful cinematography, the editing is exquisite (possibly the first time I’ve ever described editing with that word). But, mostly due to the presence of Ralph Fiennes and some physically realized daydreams, The Constant Gardener comes off a lot like The English Patient, only relevant.

The film, rather interestingly, so inhuman, so vile, a James Bond villain would be taking notes. These villains–played wonderfully by Danny Huston and Bill Nighy (Huston’s just magnificent)–are, of course, members of the British government. While the film could be an exploration of evil men who do evil things but still play cricket with their children in filmic moments meant to bring attention to that contradiction, it is not.

The first forty minutes are Rachel Weisz playing Joan of Arc. It’s possibly Weisz’s best (or only good) performance, but since she is playing the finest human being ever to walk (or possibly levitate above) the earth, Meirelles would have to be incompetent to not get such a performance out of her. And Meirelles is far from incompetent. He gets more humanity out of Fiennes, with his stylized cinéma vérité in domestic situations, than anyone else ever has. Following Weisz’s death (it’s not a spoiler, the film opens with it then awkwardly goes into flashback for forty minutes), Fiennes takes over on his investigation into her death. His investigation being the most boring investigation I can ever remember seeing in a film. It’s long and boring and predictable (there is no mystery to be solved really) and the film’s filled with scenes for edifying the audience in regards to what’s going on in Africa with drug companies.

I would have said it was a preaching-to-the-choir film, but then I remembered when it was out and I know a lot of dumb people who went to go see it, so hopefully it did inform. Hopefully it did make some really ignorant people realize what’s going on.

But as a film? As a story? Meirelles goes so far as to mimic a bunch of English Patient shots. Like shots from the poster.

Without the politics, The Constant Gardener would have been–well, it wouldn’t have been. But all there is to the film is the information and the emotional effect of seeing it. Weisz’s death, the supposed impetus, is as useless as the miscarriage her character suffers for no reason other than to introduce a character, a mystery, and kill some time, make the audience feel even sorry for Joan of Arc.

Pete Postlethwaite shows up for a bit and it’s nice to see him. Gerard McSorley is good.

The film does succeed (I mean, I’m referring to it as a film, aren’t I?) on some levels–and maybe it succeeds on all the ones it’s trying to succeed on–but it’s lack of narrative ambition is startling and somewhat distressing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Claire Simpson; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Focus Features.

Starring Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa Quayle), Danny Huston (Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Lorbeer), Hubert Koundé (Dr. Arnold Bluhm) and Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss).


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