The Little Drummer Girl Blu-ray Review: Keaton Marches to Her Own Beat

John le Carré’s spellbinding 1983 novel about an actress caught up in the battle between Palestine and Israel is sadly still entirely relevant today, making this 1984 film adaptation feel fresh 40 years later. Diane Keaton stars as a stage actress recruited for the performance of her lifetime as an undercover agent for Israeli operatives baiting an elusive Palestinian terrorist. Her loyalties are tested as she grapples with her job and her feelings for the terrorist and his cause, leaving her and us to wonder if she’s truly an agent…or a double agent.

Buy The Little Drummer Girl Blu-ray

Keaton is mostly convincing as an actress cast in an all-too-real role, maybe not the best choice for the part but largely up to the task. She’s surrounded by a male supporting cast with very little star power, aside from the volatile Klaus Kinski playing an uncharacteristically subdued role as the head of the group running her spy operation. Watch for a young Bill Nighy with a full head of hair in a bit part as a fellow member of her acting troupe.

George Roy Hill’s steady direction keeps the twisty tale on track, making for a streamlined and competent take on le Carré’s story that is far more cohesive than Park Chan-wook’s 2018 limited series starring Florence Pugh. Where Park’s impeccable artistry sometimes gets in the way of his sprawling, bewildering approach to the story, just like his current run on HBO’s The Sympathizer, Hill is laser-focused on the plot with no frills, packing the lengthy story into a brisk two-hour runtime that feels shorter.

The Blu-ray image quality is superb, burnished of all imperfections with rock-solid color consistency. Sound is another matter. While the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack is clear and free of defects, it contains an omnipresent hiss consistent with its era, but seemingly easy enough to minimize with modern editing tools. It’s no great distraction, just not as refined as one would expect. No bonus features are included, except for the original theatrical trailer.

Keaton’s performance never really lets you forget that she’s acting, which makes her an oddly fitting choice to play an actress in over her head. She doesn’t really do duplicity well, and her conversational dialogues inevitably evoke her work in Woody Allen films, but Hill still gets what he needs out of her and her co-stars to drive this winning take on le Carré’s novel.

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Steve Geise

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