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Adaptation and Tailoring

I watched both "Adaptation" and "The Tailor of Panama" this past weekend. What different worlds they are.

Adaptation is the second screenplay by Kaufman (and his imaginary twin), the writer also responsible for the brilliant, Oscar-winning Being John Malkovich. It suffers from a weak third act, a lot of self-indulgent self-reference (and yet the circularity of a movie about a screenwriter is part of the fun), and some oddball references to "Malkovich". It's very loosely based on "The Orchid Thief", a terrific book by Susan Orlean that should probably never have been optioned by Hollywood. What happens to a creative mind when it hits an unadaptable wall? Is Robert McKee really the devil for screenwriters? What's Kaufman's problem, anyway? The film is fun for anyone who has struggled with writer's doubt, loneliness, or shyness, but ultimately it's a creative failure, warped by Kaufman's ego into ... well, not an adaptation of "Orchid Thief", not quite a thing apart either. It has a sense of humor, but it's a cinematic vampire attached to a good book. A mediocre performance by Meryl Streep doesn't help — the script gives her little to do.

The Tailor of Panama, by contrast, doesn't try to be more than it is. It's based on the eponymous book by John LeCarre, and filmed by John Boorman on location in lush tropical Panamavision. Pierce Brosnan plays the villain, Geoffrey Rush plays the tailor, and the whole film does a much better job of integrating action sequences with questions of truth and trust. Jamie Lee Curtis shows some surprising chops beyond the usual, but it's hardly an actor's dream.

Conclusion? The art house film promises bigger rewards, but fails more often. The Hollywood flick promises less, but I'm more satisfied when it does the job right. Recommendation: "Tailor."

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