October 22, 1984 12:00 PM

Diane Keaton will be a long time living down this film version of John Le Carré’s provocative bestseller about the morally bankrupt world of international espionage. Forget that the movie doesn’t live up to the book (few movies do), but how can we forgive Keaton for a comically intense performance that distorts what may be Le Carré’s most complex work? Director George Roy Hill, who has mismanaged the screen translations of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and John Irving’s The World According to Garp, must also shoulder some blame—along with screenwriter Loring (Promises in the Dark) Mandel—for hammering Le Carré’s finely calibrated prose into pulp. The book introduced Charlie, a struggling British actress with pro-Palestinian leanings who fell for an Israeli intelligence operative and became a double agent. Her mission was to help the Israelis trap the elusive Khalil, a Palestinian terrorist. Le Carré, a five-year British Foreign Service veteran, was illustrating the seductiveness of terrorism and reflecting his own disenchantment with the irreconcilable claims of both sides. Onscreen Charlie, the plain-faced Brit, is transformed into the American Keaton acting as if she’s doing a guest shot on Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Joseph, the Israeli agent whose sexual magnetism is supposed to be strong enough to compel Charlie to switch allegiances, is played by newcomer Yorgo Voyagis, a charmless actor notable only for his paunch. How will these two ever convey the “seductiveness of terror” for those unfamiliar with the novel? Sami Frey is better and sexier as the legendary Khalil. And Klaus Kinski, as an Israeli intelligence chief who coolly orders an assassination and then phones his wife for a bit of family gossip, steals what there is of the picture. Kinski is pure Le Carré. Keaton is pure Hollywood. Her scenes in training at a PLO camp should send shivers down the spine; instead they come off like outtakes from Private Benjamin. Keaton can’t stop trying to endear herself to the audience—a trick she honorably avoided in Reds and Shoot the Moon. Near the climax, Hill splatters the screen with gore to make his point. The effect is shocking but too late. Keaton’s star turn has transformed a good, perhaps great, book into an indefensibly bad movie. (R)

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