21 March 2003 | Danimal-7
Great spy story, bizarre main character
Professional intelligence case workers appeal to four principal motives to recruit their agents: Money, Ideology, Compromise (meaning blackmail), and Ego, sometimes referred to by the acronym MICE. In THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, we see a fifth motive used: Screenwriter's Fiat.
Charlie, a little pro-Palestinian Jane Fonda wannabe, is kidnapped by the Israeli Mossad, humiliated, and offered the job of spying on Palestinian terrorists. She accepts because, um, because, well, the screenwriter says so. Okay, so there's a vague effort to make us believe that Charlie's in love with one of the Mossad agents, but since her attraction to him was based entirely on the belief that he was a romantic, dashing leader of the Palestinian `revolution,' there's no basis for her to continue being attracted to him once she learns he's a spy for the Israelis whom she hates.
I'm not sure any woman in the world is quite so easily manipulated as Charlie in this movie. If such a woman really exists anywhere, why on earth would anyone want her as an intelligence agent? Anyone who can be convinced to change sides that easily once can surely be convinced to do so a second time. You wouldn't dare let her out of your sight for ten seconds, and as for allowing her to join a Palestinian terrorist training camp, where she'd be out of sight and in the presence of her old friends for months on end, forget about it. It's absurd. If I were politically correct, I would call it a misogynist movie, but that would probably be unfair. There's no evidence that director George Roy Hill imagined Charlie's weakness and stupidity to be typical of all women.
It's a shame that Charlie is neither a believable nor a likeable heroine, because in every other respect THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL is a great spy movie. I can't say precisely how realistic it is technically, but it feels authentic at every turn. The brutal interrogations of the captured terrorist, and the intense multilayered surveillance of Charlie ring very true. There's no one-man-army James Bond crap here; the Israelis assign a full squad of spies to every job. More importantly it gives us the psychological feel of the espionage profession. The stock in trade of professional spies is the betrayal of loyalty and the abuse of friendship. Naturally, this does not make for likeable characters, however much one may admire the cause for which they work. Hill does not attempt to sugarcoat this; he shows it to us as it is.
Diane Keaton should not be blamed for failing to make her ridiculous character convincing; she is clearly doing the best she can, and quite probably the best that anyone could have. Klaus Kinski steals every scene he gets as Mossad master agent Marty Kurtz. David Suchet gets a fine small role as a terrorist thug.
THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL is a fine example of how outstanding supporting performances, dedication, and sincerity (you rarely find movies this honest in Hollywood anymore) can rescue a movie whose protagonist is badly written. It's not half the movie it could have been, but it's a good movie anyway.
Rating: **½ out of ****.
Recommendation: See it on video or DVD with your friends.