Noriega: God's Favorite (2000)



Director:  Roger Spottiswoode.

Starring:  Bob Hoskins (Manuel Noriega), Jeffrey DeMunn (Nuncio), Rosa Blasi (Vicky Amador), Luis Avalos (President Nicky Barletta), Denise Blasor (Felicidad Noriega), Nestor Carbonell (Major Giroldi), Tony Plana (Colonel Diaz-Herrera), Sabi Dorr (Irwin), John Verea (Father Jorge), Richard Masur (Mark), David Marshall Grant (Drug Dealer), Michael Sorich (Fidel Castro), Jorge Luis Abreu (Witch Doctor), Edward Edwards (Oliver North).

Just before surrendering to the U.S. forces, Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega reveals much of his life story. 

1989  -- US invasion of Panama under President George Bush I.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Manuel Antonio Noriega was born in poverty and grew up in neglect.  Illegitimate and orphaned by his mother, he learned to survived in the slums of Panama City.  He became a CIA informer while still in military school. 

Noriega seized power in 1983 after General Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash.  Soon afterwards, civil wars and drug traffickers thrust this long-ignore country and its corrupt leader onto the world state. 

Border Region. Panama-Costa Rica.  A man is being tortured and killed by Panamanian soldiers.  (Noriega has a Colombian drug lab destroyed.)

Noriega is confessing to a priest.  He tells the priest that he has had wonderful luck in his life:  "I was always one of God's favorites." 

Noriega has a mistress, Vicky Amador, a wife, Felicidad, and children.  His mistress and wife often call him Tony.  He flies with his wife and children (and his mistress acting as the flight attendant) to Geneva, Switzerland with $20 million dollars in a suitcase.  He flirts with the pilot (and has sex with him, while the plane is on automatic pilot).  In Geneva, Noriega deposits the money in a safe deposit box in which there is already gold bars and stacks of money. 

While in Switzerland, the headless body  of Hugo Spadafora, a doctor who tried to model himself on the revolutionary Che, is found.  His wife asks him where he got all the money.  Noriega has been acting as a double agent for the CIA and Cuba and is deeply involved in drug trafficking.  He feels somewhat secure because he says that George Bush is an old friend. 

US Southern Command.  The general feeling is that this time the little General has gone too far. 

President Nicky Barletta and Colonel Diaz-Herrera call Noriega to tell him about the discovery of the headless body and the fact that there are large-scale demonstrations in Panama against him. 

American agents talk to Noriega and tell him that he is one of the good guys: an anti-communist democrat. The problem, however, is that the American public sees him as a Fascist.  Noriega decides that he has to do something and so he has Colonel Diaz-Herrera arrests President Nicky Barletta.  The President protests to the Colonel who tells the President that he can sign the resignation papers and retire gracefully.  The President signs.  New elections will be scheduled. 

Noriega says that he was born in hell. 

Noriega and his wife fly to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro.  The welcoming party is late and Fidel arrives much later.  Referring to the destruction of the Colombian drug lab, Fidel gives him some advice.  You can offend the Americans, he says, but never offend the Colombians.  The Colombians are serious.  Fidel tells him to give the drug lord a total of $15 million dollars, return his airplane and other things, and build his lab somewhere else. 

When Noriega returns to Panama he is greeted by demonstrators and he is none too happy about it. 

Noriega receives a tape from the drug lord showing his family and himself in various locations, some right in his office.  This is a message saying that they can reach and kill Noriega at any time.  Noriega is worried. 

Noriega tells the Colonel that he has a problem.  He says that "this Hugo thing" is bad and that people are saying that he, the Colonel, is responsible.  He suggests that the Colonel take refuge in another country.  (He later confesses that he even survived the Colombians.)

Two American drug traffickers bring a huge amount of money to Noriega in order to be allowed to begin a drug business based in Panama. 

Noriega is very disturbed and angry when he sees his Colonel on the television revealing his secrets.  The Colonel says that Noriega was involved in the Hugo beheading, has conspired with the CIA and was also partly responsible for the death of General Omar Torrijos  (the last of which Noriega vehemently denies). 

Noriega meets with Colonel Oliver North of the US Marines and the White House.  He tells Noriega that they have to shut-off weapons to the freedom fighters in Nicaragua.  Noriega disapprovingly says the White House sold missiles to Iran.  Colonel North tells Noriega that he has bee indicted in Miami for drug trafficking.

Former President Jimmy Carter arrives to supervise the election in Panama.  The election seems to be going against Noriega and so he tells Major Giroldi to "Get out there Major and bring me the election."  The Major has his soldiers disrupt the vote counting and change it so that the election goes Noriega's way.  President Carter is outraged at the stealing of the election.  The Americans want Noriega out.  They tell Noriega to name his successor and he in turn can keep his ill-begotten  money.  The Americans will also squash the indictments against him.  (A later scene shows Noriega talking about what he should do to a large jar with the head of Hugo floating in it.)

Major Giroldi is disgusted with Noriega and he talks with some American agents.  The Major is plotting a take-over from Noriega and he wants the Americans not to use force, but to block off the roads to and from the place where Noriega will be held so that Noriega will realize that the Americans are behind the coup and will give up.  The Major thinks he has made a deal with the Americans.  But when the agents talk to military headquarters, there is a great deal of skepticism about backing the Major's plan.  (They do not, however, tell the Major about their doubts.)

The Major and his allies carry out the coup attempt, but the Major makes a serious blunder when he grants Noriega time to be alone so he can pray.  With the time alone, Noriega calls Vicky to tell her to call those military units still loyal to him.  The loyal troops grab the families of the primary soldiers involved in the coup.  Noriega is saved by the troops loyal to him and by the Major refusing to kill him.  The Major is taken into custody.  

The Americans are surprised at the attempted coup.  They didn't realize that the Major was really serious.  They feared that it might be a Noriega double-cross.  Noriega starts giving anti-American speeches and the United States responds by declaring Noriega a threat to America. President Bush I goes on television to tell the public that that he will bring Noriega to justice and restore democracy to Panama.  The invasion of Panama begins.  The justification for the invasion is that Panama had declared that they were at war with the US and that Noriega had threatened the welfare of US citizens.

Noriega takes sanctuary in a cathedral.  The church is then surrounded by "Yankees," who blare loud music at the cathedral.  Noriega takes confession with the priest, reviewing his life story.


Good movie.  I didn't think Bob Hoskins was the best choice to play the mestizo Noriega.  (Surely they could have found an Hispanic actor for the part.)  The United States is such a major player in the politics of all the Latin American and South American countries, along with Mexico, that they all have to take into account what the American reaction will be.  The US is just too big and too powerful to be ignored.  This is clearly illustrated in the politics of Panama which makes the movie more than just an autobiography of the corrupt dictator Noriega.   Noriega believed he was very lucky, which was amusing, because you know what is going to happen to him.  His luck just ran out when the power went to his head and he started challenging and taunting the US.  At first, the Americans regarded Noriega as a good guy, an anti-communist democrat, but when he turned on the US, it was time for him to go. 

I liked it that they put Colonel North in the movie.  He was the fellow who traded arms for hostages in violation of the law, selling missiles to Iran for money to buy arms for the contras fighting the unwanted government in Nicaragua.     

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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