The Little Drummer Girl Blu-ray Review

3 Stars Adequate film version of an excellent espionage tale.
The Little Drummer Girl Review Screenshot

Fans of the book will want more than this merely adequate film version of The Little Drummer Girl.

The Little Drummer Girl (1984)
Released: 19 Oct 1984
Rated: R
Runtime: 130 min
Director: George Roy Hill
Genre: Drama
Cast: Diane Keaton, Yorgo Voyagis, Klaus Kinski
Writer(s): Loring Mandel, John le Carré
Plot: An American actress with a penchant for lying is forcibly recruited by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, to trap a Palestinian bomber, by pretending to be the girlfriend of his dead brother.
IMDB rating: 6.1
MetaScore: 54

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 03/26/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 3/5

The civil unrest between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not a recent occurrence. Even in 1983 when John Le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl became an international best seller, the conflicts had been decades in the making. George Roy Hill’s movie version was produced the following year, and while a few basic changes were made to characters, the basic plot of the book remained. But Le Carré’s novels with their thick convolutions and multiple subplots are almost always better suited for miniseries rather than feature films that must strip the narrative to its bare bones robbing it often of fire and color. That’s certainly the case with The Little Drummer Girl’s film version.

Appearing with a British repertory company and in the occasional television commercial to earn her keep, American actress Charlie (Diane Keaton), though firmly pro-Palestinian, is tricked by an elaborate scheme to consider joining a team of Israeli Mossad operatives headed by Kurtz (Klaus Kinski) to track down the dangerous Palestinian bomber Khalil (Sami Frey). Along the way, Charlie finds herself falling in love with her Israeli handler Joseph (Yorgo Voyagis), and she is assured that murder of Palestinians is not on the agenda; the Mossad simply wants to remove these dangerous individuals from doing any more bombing of notable Jewish persons. But though her elaborate ruses often pay dividends, it is naïve of Charlie to believe there would not be a loss of life along the way, possibly her own.

The screenplay by Loring Mandel zips the viewer through amazing locales: London, Mykonos, Athens, Munich, and Beirut to name but a few, but one must pay close attention as people, places, and plans zoom by at breakneck speed. Director George Roy Hill doesn’t always make things easy for viewers who have not read the book before partaking of the film, but eventually the narrative begins to smooth out into the second hour as the motives, personalities of the players, and the operations become clearer. Don’t believe that hogwash about no violence that Kurtz and Joseph espouse: there are plenty of bombings (a shocking one at the start of the film and others elsewhere) and lots of death to satisfy those with any degree of bloodlust. Important characters from the book unfortunately sometimes get only seconds on the screen, and important scenes are stripped to their essentials in order for the film not to run four hours.

Diane Keaton is a wonderful actress, and while she gives a dedicated and earnest performance (and the emotional toll it leaves on her is expertly yet subtly played at the climax), she’s really all wrong for the role of Charlie. At this stage of her career after Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Reds, and Shoot the Moon, she’s hardly the blank slate of an inexperienced-with-life actress that the Mossad need for their espionage operation (which is why the character in the book is in her twenties). Klaus Kinski draws all eyes to his confident and dominant Mossad head man Kurtz, and Eli Danker is equally effective as his number two man Litvak. Yorgo Voyagis perhaps underplays a bit too much as Charlie’s love interest Joseph (not his real name), and both Sami Frey and Moti Shirin make strong impressions as Palestinian brothers Khalil and Michel who are fond of blowing up their enemies. Playwright Michael Cristofer does quite well with Palestinian leader Tayeh, and David Suchet has a couple of good moments as one of his operatives. Yep, that’s the young Bill Nighy as one of Charlie’s rep co-stars.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully reproduced in 1080p using the AVC codec. While there are no age-related problems with splices and scratches, the image sometimes has a soft and slightly dated appearance. It’s never truly sharp (possibly it was filmed that way, but my memory of my one theatrical screening of the film is vague), but color is acceptable with good flesh tones. The movie has been divided into 26 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is just a trifle underwhelming when an espionage movie such as this cries out for a more expansive sound design. Dialogue, music (by Dave Grusin), and most of the sound effects are all professionally rendered though one might think some of the explosive blasts lack a bit of heft. There are no anomalies like hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter to distract the listener.

Special Features: 0.5/5

Theatrical Trailer (1:49, HD)

Overall: 3/5

Fans of John Le Carré’s espionage novel The Little Drummer Girl may not find George Roy Hill’s 1984 film version fully satisfying, but with attention to detail and a little patience, the home moviegoing experience with this Warner Archive Blu-ray release can be at least adequate.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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