George Roy Hill's film of John Le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl was, like most Le Carre adaptations, a big box-office disappointment in 1984 and has long since pretty much disappeared from sight (it's currently only on DVD in Germany). Its plot isn't the easiest of sells, it's true: to track down and kill a Palestinian terrorist, Mossad trick an actress and Palestinian sympathiser into becoming their own undercover agent, in the process revealing and stripping away the inventions and deceits she has carefully cultivated to hide her own lack of a sense of self and creating a new, equally false persona.
On one level it's old ground for the author with another damaged and emotionally immature protagonist providing ideal cannon fodder for the spy game, but it's also one of Le Carre's more personal novels - the absent and less than honest father is clearly based on Le Carre's own while the heroine was so heavily inspired by his half-sister Charlotte Cornwall that it caused something of a backlash against the film when a badly miscast Diane Keaton got the role instead (though there was never any prospect of Cornwall getting the lead in a big-budget globe-trotting thriller from a major Hollywood studio to begin with). It doesn't help that the script highlights her limitations as an actress - her English accent is terrible (even the German and Israeli actors can pronounce Nottingham properly), her delivery of Shaw and Shakespeare in the theatre scenes amateurish and every line that contains the words `I believe' brings out a nasty rash of overacting. She has her moments but even allowing for the fact that she's playing an actress doesn't excuse the weaker moments that undo her best work elsewhere in the film and sporadically threaten to take you out of the story.
It's a particular shame because there's enough meat in the role - a compulsive liar constantly turning her past into a fictional romantic tragedy, passionately believing in the causes of others to fill the void in herself - that a better actress could have elevated the film a couple of notches beyond the okay espionage procedural thriller it is to the darker character study it could have been. As it stands it's a mixture of a few strong moments and a few awkward ones with the bulk of the film efficiently filling in the gaps without any particular distinction.
Politically at least it's more balanced than you might expect: the Mossad agents openly lie and manipulate her with little regard for anything but their own aims despite their displays of bonhomie as they exploit her desperate need for a cause and a surrogate family to belong to while, with the exception of OTT German neo-Nazi hellfrau Helga, who seems to have wandered in from an old WW2 movie, the Palestinians generally avoid easy stereotyping. Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly, but it's never less than watchable and there's a strong supporting turn from a sympathetic Klaus Kinski while a few unexpected familiar faces like Bill Nighy and David Suchet turn up in the supporting cast.
The PAL German DVD has no extras but boasts a decent 1.85:1 transfer with English soundtrack.