An in-depth character study into one of Latin
America's most complex leaders, Showtime telefilm Noriega: God's Favorite
is a compelling look into the circumstances of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama that shows
the viewer quite a few things one didn't already know.
Based on former Cable News Network reporter Lawrence
Wright's fictionalized account of Gen. Manuel "Tony" Noriega's last
days in power, it stars Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Nixon) in the
role of the military dictator.
Hoskins' performance is a showstopper -- he captures
Noriega's megalomania, brutality, insecurity and belief that God is somehow favoring
him when he cheats death in a coup attempt, or when he winds up in the hands of U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency agents, rather than an angry mob of citizens.
The film begins with the assassination of dissent doctor
Hugo Spadafora (Hector Sanchez) and the outrage the murder causes among Panamanian
citizens, much of it directed at Noriega. His Central Intelligence Agency patrons urge him
to hold "open" elections -- a vote that is eventually used as a pretext for a
Meanwhile, Noriega's attempt to appease the Americans
by raiding a drug lab also lands him in hot water with Colombian drug lords. In one of the
film's most interesting vignettes, he visits Fidel Castro (Michael Sorich) in Havana
for advice in how to deal with the Colombians, and Castro lets Noriega know where he
Also equally interesting are the film's depictions of
Noriega's relations with the women in his life -- his wife, Felicidad (Denise
Blasor), and his mistress, Vicky Amador (Rosa Blasi). This controlling dictator, brutal to
his enemies, is often the pawn of both women -- one of the many contrasts in
Rounding out the film's strong performances are Nestor
Carbonell as Major Giroldi, a devoutly religious military officer who spearheads an
unsuccessful coupprior to the U.S. invasion; the Papal Nuncio (Jeffrey DeNunn),
who must grudgingly accept Noriega into the Vatican Embassy despite his distaste for the
man; and Father Jorge (John Verea), the self-described "most anti-Noriega priest in
the country," who hears the dictator's confession.
One of the most interesting paradoxes of the film is that
despite Noriega's street smarts and political savvy, he never catches on to the fact
that President Bush (Charlie Garrett) is no longer in his back pocket -- not until U.S.
paratroops are landing on the streets of Panama City.
There are a few flaws in the film -- more information about
Noriega's early life would have helped to round out the character, and Bush appears
in the film both portrayed by an actor and as himself via videotape. Nonetheless, Noriega:
God's Favorite is a worthwhile view, if just for Hoskins' performance.
The film premieres on Showtime Sunday, April 2, at 8 p.m.
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