Picks and Pans Review: Sophie's Choice

updated 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

On the printed page, William Styron's best-selling novel was at once overwhelming and overwrought. Director Alan (Klute) Pakula's faithful film version (he also wrote the screenplay—his first) shows the same strengths and weaknesses. But in Meryl Streep, Pakula has found an actress to make such criticism seem nitpicking. Playing Sophie, a Polish-Catholic survivor of Auschwitz who takes refuge in Brooklyn from the dark secrets of her past, Streep dominates the screen with her uncanny emotional range, an unerring Polish accent and a radiant carnality that cuts through the chilly remoteness of her past screen roles. In this, her eighth film, Streep earns the praise that's been heaped on her since her 1977 debut in Julia. As Nathan, the anguished Jew who befriends and berates Sophie in an all-consuming passion, Kevin Kline, of Broadway's Pirates of Penzance, acts a difficult role with charm and subtle menace. The scenes in which he nurses Streep back to health are among the loveliest romantic interludes ever committed to film. The pair's dependence on each other is almost palpable, heightening the harrowing violence of the film's latter half. Pakula's direction, especially in the concentration camp scenes, abounds in understated, assured touches. His inspiration deserts him only with Stingo, the book's young Southern writer, who as the movie's narrator spouts Styronisms ("In making love she was beating back death") better left unspoken. Though Peter (Dragonslayer) MacNicol plays the role impeccably, Stingo's comical attempts to lose his virginity seem gratuitous in a film that runs two hours and 37 minutes. No matter. Streep and Kline, embodying their characters in a way that goes beyond performing, obliterate the excesses on their straight and stirring journey to the heart. (R)

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