thetize himself against any vestiges of humannfeeling. For others, he can only affordnto feel contempt. Yet, as repellent asnhe is, he’s nonetheless fascinating. Youncannot help wondering how he becamenthis moral cretin. Is it his rottenness thatndraws a certain kind of woman to him?nDoes he somehow inspire a paradoxicalndesire both to enjoy and to tame hisncrude masculine heedlessness?nOsnard is a dangerous man and —tonthe inexperienced—that can be alluring.nBut he’s become even more dangerousnnow that he’s fallen into disgrace with hisnsuperiors for abusing his license to pushnothers around. To get him out of theirnhair, they have fobbed him off on theirn”pokey” Panamanian embassy “to watchnthe canal.” As Osnard cynically explains,nLondon doesn’t want the world’s most famousnman-made waterway to fall inton”the wrong hands now that it’s in thenwrong [i.e., Panamanian] hands.” Knowingnhis career has been jeopardized, perhapsnterminally, he’s like a woundedntiger, all the more feral for its pain andnfear. He means to retrieve his fortunesnand is more than usually ready to sacrificenothers to do so.nBrosnan’s performance is matched bynGeoffrey Rush as Pendel, the tailor whoncame to Panama some 20 years before tonbury a past that includes doing time fornarson and insurance fraud in London.nHaving learned his trade in prison, hensets himself up as the respectable proprietornof Pendel and Braithwaite, a distinguishedngentleman’s clothier selling bespokensuits. Despite Panama City’s tropicalnclimate, he has decorated his shop tonresemble the stuffiest of London’s clubs,nwith leather furniture and oak-panelednwalls. We find him proudly presenting ancustomer with a bolt of fine wool, pointingnout in his muted cockney that itsnweight is “all a gentleman should havento endure in this diabolical climate.”nHarry, a natural stor)’teller, has inventedna bogus history for himself He prattlesnabsurdly about carrying on a 400-year traditionnof Savile Row tailoring and almostnseems to believe his marketing malarkey.nAnd why not? It has made him quite successful.nPanama’s 30 ruling families,nalong with their law)’ers and bankers, allnwear his $2,500 suits. He even tailoredntheir personal thug-in-chief Manuel Norieganbefore the little butcher was forcednto retire by George Bush, Sr., whom onenof the local Brits calls his ungratefuln”Frankenstein.”nSuccessful though he has been, all isn48/CHRONICLESnnot well with Pendel. Desiring to joinnthe upper class, he has bought a farm onnusurious terms—two percent per month.nGiven the tardy payments of his uppitynclientele, he finds himself falling behindnon his mortgage. This, together with tiienfact that his proper wife knows nothing ofnhis criminal past, makes Pendel ideallynvulnerable to Osnard’s methods. All Osnardnhas to do is offer him the carrot ofnbig money and flourish the stick of exposure.nAs tailor to the local rich and infamous,nPendel would seem a perfect candidate tonbe Osnard’s man in Panama. There’s justnone problem: Despite his one brush withnthe law and his penchant for fabrication,nPendel is fundamentally decent. Yes, henknows his suits confer unearned respectabilit)’non some unsavor}’ characters.nNevertheless, “an unrepentant innocencen[shines] from his baby blue eyes,”nas le Garre puts it. In a land where mostnof the upper class is supported—directlynor indirectly—by money laundering andnthe drug trade, Pendel has joyfully embracedndomestic virtue, blissfully cultivatingnhis garden. And well he should, for itnis inhabited by Louisa (Jamie Lee Gurtis),nhis beautiful wife to whom he is unswer’inglyndevoted, and their two lovely children.nNothing gives him more pleasurenthan serx’ing them. He daily rises to makenthem all breakfast and then drives the kidsnto school. He is emphatically unsuitednfor secret service. Although he has noncompunction about flattering his customersnto retain their trade, he has nonstomach for manipulating them to gainnthe kind of information Osnard wants.nSo, like Greene’s Wormold, he turns toninvention. Among other things, he tellsnOsnard that the canal is to be sold to thenGhinese. Although this is absurd on itsnface, his spymaster instantly believes him.nAs in Havana, the more preposterous andnmore dangerous the information, thenmore credulous the spies. (How true thisnrings!) They are trained to suspect thenver)’ worst and are only too happy to haventheir suspicions confirmed. The worsenthings get, the more influence and moneynthey can wield. In Havana, Wormoldndraws pictures of huge weapons beingnbuilt in “the snow-covered mountains ofnGuba,” using his vacuum cleaners asnmodels. Wlien the head of militar)’ intelligencensees them, he grows ecstatic.n”They’ll make the H-bomb a conventionalnweapon,” he chorfles. Asked if this is desirable,nhe responds, “Of course. Nobodynworries about conventional weapons anymore.”nThe threat these devices may posenis less important to him than the careernopportunit)’ they represent. I won’t discussnhere how Osnard uses Pendel’s fictions.nSuffice it to say, they’re eagerly embracednby the worst to the detriment ofnthe best.nAs the respective lamb and tiger of TftenTailor of Panama, Pendel and Osnardnperfectiy express Blake’s fearful symmetr)’.nThey are two poles of human behavior—ndevotion and betrayal — whichnGod, in His mysterious way, has permittednto coexist. The c|uestion is: Whichnwill prevail?nPanama is at once exceptionally entertainingnand morally provocative, and itnfeatures strong performances by all, includingnthe supporting players. An almostnunrecognizable Brendan Gleesonnplays a former anti-Noriega revolutionarynwith a touching mixture of gusto andnpathos. As Pendel’s wise and protectivenassistant (the woman whose face was irreparablynscarred by Noriega’s goons),nLeonor Varela is forceful and convincing.nEven Gurtis does well as Pendel’snwife, a woman entirely immune to Osnard’snappeal because she has learned theninestimable value of her husband’s decencynand devotion.nI can give Boorman’s movie no highernpraise than to say it is a match for Reed’snOur Man in Havana.
January 1975April 21, 2022By The Archive