A cut above the preposterous action spectacles that now pass for espionage films, John Le Carré's sly tale of intrigue and mendacity above and beyond the call of duty is enlivened by the complementary performances of Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan. The year is 1999, and the Panama canal has recently been returned to the Panamanian government. Meanwhile, back in England, MI-6 operative Andy Osnard (Brosnan) is in disgrace (not that you'd know it from his smug demeanor) after another in a long line of sexual indiscretions on the job. Osnard's expectations of his career were clearly formed by Ian Fleming novels (this is where Brosnan's casting resonates so perfectly), in which the business of espionage is one long parade of thrilling foreign intrigue and zipless amours. And when the reality is disappointing, he simply reworks it until it's more to his liking. Osnard is lucky not to be drummed out of the service on his ear; instead, a sympathetic superior (David Hayman) ships him off to sleepy Panama, figuring he can't get into much trouble down there. Osnard quickly "recruits" Harry Pendel (Rush), a purveyor of bespoke suits, reasoning that men tell their haberdashers everything — and well aware that Pendel is a one-time arsonist who learned the rag trade in prison and later "tailored" his own past into something more respectable. Possessed of no covert knowledge worth having, Pendel's nature inclines him to fabricate tales out of whole cloth, to carry the obvious but apt metaphor to its logical conclusion. And so he concocts for Osnard a "Silent Opposition" to the government, out of nothing more than his acquaintance with former student radicals Mickie Abraxas (Brendan Gleeson), now a hopeless drunk, and Marta (Leonor Varela), his bookkeeper; both had the fight well beaten out of them under the Noriega regime. The story begins in the blackly comic tradition of Graham Greene's OUR MAN IN HAVANA, then spirals into something very near to tragedy. Director John Boorman's storytelling conceits don't always work, but this slippery tale is solid enough to wriggle through the rough patches, which include the appearance of Pendel's late Uncle Benny (playwright Harold Pinter) whenever Pendel has a moral decision to make. Uncle Benny invariably advises lying or denying, which is amusing enough, but feels jarring in this otherwise realistic — if utterly absurd — milieu.
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