Based on the John Le Carre novel, 'The Tailor of Panama' stars Pierce Brosnan as bad-boy British spy Andy Osnard, whose only hope of redemption is a diplomatic cul-de-sac to Panama. Osnard is a thrill-seeker and obsessive womanizer, with bad manners and no elegance -- think Bond, but bratty. So he hatches a plan to lure a British member of the Panamanian community to become his contact for sources of information. Osnard finds his mark in Harry Pendel (Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush), a tailor for the country's rich and famous, who learned his trade in prison, but built his profession on the claim of a fake establishment in an affluent community known as Saville Row. He even has a lovely wife (Jamie Lee Curtis, nicely cast against type), perhaps one of a class above what Pendel deserves. Of course, Osnard is wise to Pendel's fake reputation, and blackmails him into seeking out secret political information from his clientele. As with any good spy thriller, the double-crossing and complications begin almost immediately.
'The Tailor of Panama' is a bit of a curio. It was directed by John Boorman, the legendary '70s filmmaker of such outlandish epics as 'Deliverance,' 'Zardoz,' 'Excalibur' and the utterly loopy 'Exorcist II: The Heretic.' But you'd never know that from how placid, even pedestrian, a spy flick 'The Tailor of Panama' ultimately is. This is the one time when a little Boorman excess could have done a world of good for a film that's far too languid, and unsure of whether it wants to thrill us or make us laugh. Not that I need Brosnan in a diaper like Sean Connery in 'Zardoz,' but the film so often just sits there on the screen, lacking any kind of dramatic heft, that I wondered if Boorman had at fallen asleep behind the camera, like some sort of latent coma induced by all those drugs he took in the '70s.
At least the performances are engaging. Though I don't think Brosnan is as strong here as he was in 'The Matador' or in the underrated 1999 remake of 'The Thomas Crown Affair,' he does successfully find the right balance between the playful and the pathetic in Osnard. Brosnan seems to be hinting at parody, twirling every line of dialogue off the end of his tongue like it was a moustache. Geoffrey Rush is also a terrific foil, treating the material like live theater, which gives the character an alertness, even a danger, that keeps the film moving far more than Boorman's slow-as-molasses pacing. Curtis, too, excels with the limited material she's given. Her casting is odd, yet intriguing. With that butch/femme haircut and aggressive comedic attack, she's sexy yet not a sex symbol, which allows her to easily infiltrate the boys club of a spy thriller. Too bad her role is so underwritten that she generates far too few fireworks.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with 'The Tailor of Panama' is that Boorman never seems to have figured out the tone he was going for. Is this a serious spy thriller? A comedy? A complete satire? Any of those choices would have been fine, but Boorman's out-of-character ambivilence seems to leave his actors stranded -- unsure of what to do with the material. To be fair, the film does pick up a bit in its second half, but by then it's just too little, too late. And the disappointing conclusion doesn't do the film any favors, either. I really wanted to be sucked into the world of 'The Tailor of Panama,' but the film's glassy, impenetrable surface wouldn't let me. So if you really want to see Brosnan in a top-flight caper flick but free of his Bondian shackles, rent 'The Matador' or 'The Thomas Crown Affair' instead.
Picture quality-wise, 'The Tailor of Panama' is inconsistent. Right out of the gate, it looks a bit spotty. The 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer often appears noticeably soft, sometimes varying in sharpness within the same scene. The print also wavers a bit in contrast, and darker scenes often flatten out in the mid-range. That can leave the image washed-out and two-dimensional. Also problematic is some slight edge enhancement. For example, in a scene early on between Geoffrey Rush and an accomplice, both are silhouetted against a bright window, and halos are clearly visible around hairlines and such. This was likely done to help boost sharpness, but it is still irritating.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are times when 'The Tailor of Panama' is such a bright, colorful film that you almost forget about this transfer's considerable problems. Outdoor daylight scenes in particular look very detailed and colorful. Hues really light up here, with warm oranges, sharp blues and lush greens. Fleshtones can be a bit wonky (occasionally the old red-face problem appears), but overall they are accurate. The image also looks noticeably sharper outdoors, though some scenes are still a bit overcast. Unfortunately, these secenes aren't enough to raise this one to the top ranks of Blu-ray transfers, but all things considered, 'Tailor of Panama' is certainly watchable and, at times, quite lovely.
In a rather unusual audio configuration, Sony presents 'The Tailor of Panama' in uncompressed PCM and Dolby Digital 5.0 surround options -- sorry, no .1 subwoofer channel here. With no 5.1 mix at all on the disc (even in another language) for comparison's sake, it is hard to tell how detrimental this choice is. But 'The Tailor of Panama' is a rather flat film in terms of sound design anyway. Despite being in the spy genre, this not an action movie -- instead, there's not much here beyond dialogue and only a very subtle use of score. Dynamics are only decent. I often had trouble understanding Geoffrey Rush's mumbled dialogue, which suggests weak mid- and low-range reproduction, and that was at a considerable volume level. Surround use is pretty meager, and I rarely heard any rear ambience, except for a bit of score. Even stereo effects are flat, with the most exciting aspects of the mix being car noises panning from left to right, etc. A James Bond flick, this ain't.
Sony carries all over the extras from the standard-def DVD release of 'Tailor of Panama' for its Blu-ray debut, but it was hardly an expansive collection to begin with...
The best extra is definitely the screen-specific audio commentary by director John Boorman. He starts off a bit wobbly, which is actually kind of charming -- imagine a director nervous to do an audio commentary? But once he gets into it he offers some good insights, focusing largely on the story and the characters. Though he occasionally veers into some slight technical info, it really is refreshing to hear a filmmaker talk about things like plot, tone and performance (instead of green-screen this, and CGI-that). The only weak aspect is that Boorman sometimes lapses into the dreaded trap of just narrating what we're watching on-screen.
But Boorman's occasional stumble is nothing compared to Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush, who largely ramble on about everything we already know in the 25-minute "The Perfect Fit." Shot in an irritating, slapdash video style, the two actors are certaily affable and clearly enjoyed working together, but most of their comments are banal, only occasionally cutting deeper than surface level. This one barely rates a watch even for big fans of the movie.
The other major video extra is an Alternate Ending with optional commentary from Boorman. I wasn't in love with the conclusion of the theatrical cut of the film, although I can't say this one is much better. The quality is only decent, presented in windowboxed 2.35:1 and 480i video.
Wrapping up the fun are a couple of theatrical trailers for other Sony titles, yet no promo for 'Tailor of Panama.' Go figure.
'The Tailor of Panama' is just an okay spy-thriller-drama-comedy. Its lead performances are actually a lot more successful than the twisty plot which doesn't adapt all that well from page to screen. This Blu-ray release is a mixed bag, too. I generally liked the transfer and soundtrack, but each have their problems. The extras, too, are fine but no great shakes. I suppose this is worth picking up for fans of the film, although I can't imagine that there are many peple who would put themselves in that category -- so give this one a rent only if you're a fan of spy flicks or Pierce Brosnan.