'The Little Drummer Girl' Episode 1 review: Tense, edge-of-the seat spy thriller that promises to keep you hooked
Charlie in 'The Little Drummer Girl' might think of herself as someone who is bold enough to deal with situations on her own but she still isn't aware of what she is getting into.
South Korean director Chan Wook Park is best known for his authentic visualization of scenes, and he brought in almost all of those elements in the alluringly captivating adaptation of John Le Carre's 1983 novel, 'The Little Drummer Girl'. Based in the 1979 Greece, a time when the Arab-Israel conflict was in full swing, the story follows the young aspiring actress, Charlie (played by Florence Pugh) who is lured to Athens by a mysterious stranger (played by Alexander Skarsgard) when her troupe is suddenly invited for a vacation in Greece. The vacation soon turns out to be a complete blur for Charlie who will now work with undercover secret agents, as they try to hunt down an Israeli terrorist unit.
Pugh, whose star is on the rise after working in films like 'Lady Macbeth' and 'The Falling', delivers an excellent performance as the bold yet naive Charlie, who does not hesitate from speaking her mind. Following the present pattern of putting up unconventional female characters in the frontline, the very charm of Charlie lies in the fact that she is unconventional in the most conventional way. As an aspiring actress, Charlie is proud of what she does and being a liberal-leftist, she holds some sympathy towards Palestine as she believes that "there is a way to achieve peace without killing people."
Although she does take a subtle interest in the stranger whom she identifies by his watch, she appears to be pretty cynical of him initially claiming that he is just another fraud who is prepared to rob her friends. However, the cynicism soon disappears and the two quickly develop a bond when Charlie learns the stranger's actual name to be Becker. As she joins Becker for a two-day trip to Athens, he takes Charlie by surprise when he prepares for a visit to the Acropolis. She is immediately smitten by the sight and also claims, "How will I ever fall in love after this?"
While Charlie has been portraying herself as a liberal who does not really pay any heed to attachments, she couldn't forget her own feelings towards the stranger who clearly had some other motives. The plot shifts from one scene to the other, as the Israel-intolerant Marty (played by Michael Shannon), sets up an entire story to bring Charlie on board. With the first episode setting the ground for a show-within-a-show, it can be expected that probably for the longest time Charlie will have no other choice but to play along with the spy game. Charlie's character in the first episode ends up being an example of the collateral damage that war brings.
Charlie, in spite of being a leftist-empathizer, has never really indicated any intention of being involved with undercover secret agents, nor does she ever actually speak anything against Israel which could have made her a hardcore Palestine-sympathizer, like Marty. It, hence, remains a mystery as to why she has been chosen to work with the spies. Marty clearly has his own intention of putting forth someone as a pawn, since he will not follow the government's way to bring down the terrorists. He easily had the chance to bring down Michel (played by Amir Khoury), the youngest brother to the notorious terrorist Khalil but he chose to take him by surprise without any attacks.
As Marty sets the trap to fill a cell with a single terrorist, he probably doesn't realize that he is putting an ordinary citizen's life at stake. As Marty spearheads the entire event, his hatred towards Israel seems to gain the upper hand over his duties as a protector of the law. His very need to steam up his selfish requirement has put Charlie on a path from where returning is almost impossible. While the clash between the two has not yet started, it can be expected that Charlie might actually embark upon the path laid out by Marty since at the end of the day she is an ordinary girl trying to live an extraordinary life.
While Park's dialogues have been criticized by several critics, who claim that they sometimes don't seem to fit in since Park is not a native English speaker and might have messed up with the dialogues, the very simplicity of the delivery and the absence of dialogue at the appropriate times makes the show a compelling watch. Sticking to his technique of telling a story through broad visuals and narrow focuses, Park has managed to put up the intense story against a rather relaxing canvas. With Greece in the background the sense of an impending terror activity seems meek, but at the same time, casting London in its usual grey tone has played the trick of indicating a hovering terror attack.
Every character has been delivered with the exact amount of accuracy that is required out of them. Shannon plays Marty with an acute sense of cynicism towards the system but an immense amount of trust towards his own team. While he is someone who drives people into doing things that they wouldn't otherwise do, he is also a man who has been beaten to the ground in the past by war. Standing on the other end of the spectrum is Pugh's character Charlie who is nothing more than just another pawn to Marty. Clearly, Charlie isn't aware of any of it and she, being the bold individual that she is, continues to hold herself together as she enters the spy organization.
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The first episode has done the job of establishing the characters but its actual charm lay in its capability to keep viewers hooked to their seats in spite of being an hour long. It has also revealed that it is not like any other spy show, and will definitely tell the story from an individual's perspective who serves as a collateral damage to war. It will be, however, interesting to find out more about Becker. He seems to have some striking similarities to the suspected convict, Michel, as both seem to possess the same cars, jackets, and watches. While it can be said that there might have been a bit of a time lapse in between scenes, it wouldn't be a big surprise if somewhere down the line Becker turns out to be someone he isn't.