The Tailor of Panama (2001)

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Released 11-Jan-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Audio Commentary
Featurette-The Perfect Fit: A Conversation With P Brosnan and G Rush
Alternate Ending
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Finding Forrester;Legends Of The Fall;Devil In A Blue Dress
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 105:09
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Boorman

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Geoffrey Rush
Pierce Brosnan
Jamie Lee Curtis
Brendan Gleeson
Leonor Varela
Catherine McCormack
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music Shaun Davey

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    There have been a lot of spy novels turned into movies over the years, with varying degrees of success. John Le Carré has crafted many novels of intrigue and espionage, including The Tailor of Panama. Adapted by him from his own novel and under the guidance of veteran director John Boorman one would expect, in conjunction with an excellent cast, a movie of exceptional quality. Instead, we get something a little more pedestrian that lacks punch, but is still a fairly decent movie for all that. The major problem for me was simply that there is little action to punctuate the dialogue and no real suspense to build the story on.

    Another slight problem for me was the lack of chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush as the primary characters. Brosnan's characterisation of Andrew Osnard was first rate. A good looking, philandering, low morals, hard drinking misfit who happens to work for M.I.6. Rush on the other hand is the sort of actor that can carry off playing the Marquis de Sade in Quills with absolute aplomb, yet just looked strangely out of place against Brosnan. I guess it's a case, in my estimation, of as much chemistry as a rock and a glass of water. Another problem for me was that although the scenery and location shots were exquisitely rendered, the direction of Boorman was too soft and lacked any edge.

    Andrew Osnard (Brosnan) has been recalled from his last assignment in some disgrace after some unpleasantness. In a last chance for him, he's assigned to cover the British interests in Panama, a country with an ex-pat population of less than 200 and basically a backwater assignment. In true Osnard fashion, he determines to make the best of a bad situation and while travelling to his new assignment looks for a willing (or unwilling) ally whom he hopes can get him back into the good books with his employers.

    Harry Pendel (Rush) is a local tailor, claiming to be formerly from Saville Row and now tailor to the power elite of Panama. Osnard, after some checking, discovers that Harry has a rather unsavoury past, including time for arson and in fact learned his tailoring art at the pleasure of Her Majesty. Using this fact and details on an overdue bank loan for a rather unproductive plot of land, he coaxes Harry into doing a little spying for him, with the lure of money and his silence. Andy wants information, the sort of information that an unnoticed tailor might be able to gleam when visiting the powerbrokers. The only trouble is that Harry has more idea of how to concoct a story than to find out what is really going on.

    At first, Harry makes up a story about the canal being sold to foreign interests, including the Chinese, when Osnard puts some pressure on him. Whether Osnard really believes him is debatable, but there is nothing like a good fairy tale to make you look good to the bosses. The trouble is, there is no real evidence to support Harry's claim, so Osnard forces him to begin spying on his own wife, Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis) who works for the Panama Canal authority.

    It is soon discovered that the sale of the canal is a fallacy, so Osnard steps up the pressure on Harry who in desperation conjures up first an arms deal worth $10 million and then the Silent Opposition, supposedly run by his own secretary Marta (Leonor Varela) and a friend of his, Mickie Abraxas (Brendan Gleeson), former opponents of the Noriega regime. Whether Osnard believes Harry or not doesn't matter - this is the sort of fantastic nonsense that he can use to get back into the good books and Osnard is too smart an operator not to see a chance to score big time for himself.

    Like I said, The Tailor Of Panama is a strange, slow-moving movie that just lacks any cutting edge. There are no whizz-bangs, no big car chases and no real running around. There is a little bit of chest thumping, a bit of sly deviousness, lots of innuendo, some sex and the odd humorous moment. Personally, I've watched the movie three times and I like it, but that says something more about the fact that special effects only go so far with me.

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Transfer Quality


    This is another excellent transfer to DVD, with only minor problems to distract the viewer.

    This transfer is offered at 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced which is very close to its original theatrical release aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

    The first thing I noticed was the lack of grain. There was some, but it was very light, adding to the overall sharpness of the transfer. Some noticed edge enhancement (61:41 is a good example, the profiles of Jamie Lee Curtis and Pierce Brosnan in relief) did detract somewhat throughout the movie though. Shadow detail was excellent with even the darker scenes offering excellent background detail. As with all newer movies, there was no hint of low level noise and blacks were solid and very clean.

    The palette in use in this movie was excellent and varied. I could detect not even the slightest bleed and colours were totally natural at all times.

    The only real distractions in this transfer were film to video artefacts. Throughout the movie, your eye may detect slight break-ups on various objects like windows, shutters and cars. Aliasing, such as at 7:34 and 32:12 on a window and the shutters is typical. Moiré artefacts were a little rarer but a notable one occurs at 10:39, again on a window shutter. No MPEG artefacts were detected nor any pixelization. Some slight film artefacts can be seen at 54:24, but otherwise the print used was pristine in this regard.

    A choice of 17 subtitles are available and they take up the bottom line of the movie and extend into the black bars below the picture. Reasonably accurate without too many liberties, they are easy to read and utilise a decent font.

    After three viewings, I still haven't been able to determine a layer change on this disc. One of two possibilities come to mind. First is that it is so brief that my DVD player didn't detect it (unlikely), or two, considering the bitrate for the movie hovers around 5.5-6 meg/second and the movie is relatively short, that no layer change was needed for the movie, and it is on one layer and the extras on another layer (most likely).

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    As with any movie that is primarily dialogue-driven, this one doesn't have a lot of special effects and is fairly confined to the front soundstage for the most part. Offering just a single soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 kilobits per second in English, this one can be called adequate for the job only. One other thing to note is that the soundtrack seems to have been recorded at a very low level. I had to listen at a much higher setting than normal in order to obtain good fidelity.

    There was no problem with the dialogue although there was a very noticeable sync error at 35:02, an obvious overdub that was totally mismatched.

    The music was by Shaun Davey, who also did the music on another favourite of mine, Waking Ned Devine. Nicely molded into the Panamanian location, the soundtrack includes lots of samba music and some nice Latin beats. Nothing especially overwhelming with the music but a generally good track.

    This is not exactly the best surround channel usage I've heard in the past few months and only occasionally does it make itself noticed. There isn't much envelopment generated by the rear's soundtrack to be honest although there were many parts of the movie that cried out for just such a treatment.

    Even less used is the .1 channel. Basically, you might hear the odd muffled note coming from the subwoofer but it remains fairly inactive all the way through the movie.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Simple scrolling series of pictures through the middle of the screen, while below are the menu options. The audio is taken from the soundtrack.

Dolby Digital Trailer

    The usual City trailer in all its glory.

Audio Commentary

    A lot of people are opposed to audio commentary, especially from the director. I suppose it does take a little of the mystique and enjoyment out of a movie when you are told, in precise detail, exactly what a certain scene is meant to portray. Another problem with commentaries is that those behind the camera are most definitely (for the most part), not as eloquent as those in front of the camera. In the case of John Boorman, this becomes self evident almost from the start. Softly spoken, Boorman is a fount of information in regards to what he wants on the screen, how he envisions the characterisations, the locations he chooses, how he uses sets intermingled with location shots, right down to how he shoots the actors for maximum effect. I found him interesting but a little tedious to listen to. His gentle manner only made his fumbling more apparent and he often seemed to run out of things to say yet tried to keep talking to cover the gaps.


    An interesting if unenlightening interview with Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan. Quite possibly filmed in Panama, since the backdrop is very similar to the movie, both men talk about various subjects including the novel as a reference, the director, the locations etc. For the most part, it's Rush speaking and he is a deliberate, interesting but not very animated talker. Some interesting anecdotes, some amusing moments and much in keeping with the movie, running at a fairly slow pace. Interesting reverse/sepia shots are used at times and the quality is fairly good. A running time of 24:46 give it enough time to be a little more value than the standard 'making of..' type featurette. The actual interview was shot in 4x3 and excerpts from the movie are taken directly from it in 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced.

Alternate Ending

    This comes with optional director's commentary. With a running time of 5:32, it includes a completely different ending for Oznart and Pendel. Displayed in letterboxed 2.35:1 and not 16x9 enhanced it lacks obvious post production and was cut because the character of Pendel does something totally unexpected and was not in keeping with the rest of the movie. John Boorman's commentary stops after just over 2 minutes as he has clearly run out of things to say.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    Abbreviated filmographies for John Boorman, Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson and Catherine McCormack.

Theatrical Trailers

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    From the looks of it, the difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 comes down to subtitles and an additional French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack on the Region 1 transfer. As far as the subtitles go, they get English and French, we get an array of 17 to choose from.


    I found this an enjoyable movie much in the style of a typical Le Carré thriller, except that it lacked any real buzz about it. The acting of the primary cast is excellent, although Rush and Brosnan do appear to be odd bedfellows that might appeal to others but didn't do much for me.

    The video is excellent with only a couple of minor blemishes.

    The audio is adequate for this type of movie, but nothing spectacular.

    A decent extras package without being exceptional. The trailers with Dolby Digital 5.1 were a bit of a surprise.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, February 28, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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