Picks and Pans Review: Betrayal

updated 03/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

When a London publisher learns his literary agent friend is having an affair with his wife, it sounds like the eternal triangle, by now a bit of a bore. Well, Betrayal, adapted by Harold Pinter from his 1978 play, is a live wire. As always, Pinter crafts his dialogue to detonate. Ditto his silences. He tells his story backward—starting with the end of the affair and ending nine years before on the day it began. This can seem gimmicky, as it did in the 1980 Broadway production, which was not helped by the miscasting of Roy Scheider and Raul Julia. But Pinter and first-time feature director David Jones cast the film just right. As the fastidious publisher, Ben Kingsley proves his stunning debut in Gandhi was no fluke. Holding his body rigid, Kingsley, with darting eyes and a wounding wit, reveals the cuckolded husband squirming inside. This is remarkable, richly suggestive acting. Jeremy (The French Lieutenant's Woman) Irons also delivers a finely calibrated performance portraying the false friend. One long Kingsley-Irons restaurant scene in which neither speaks directly to the other is tension-charged and beautifully managed. Only British TV actress Patricia Hodge disappoints; as Kingsley's wife, she can handle Pinter's language but lacks the mesmerizing attractiveness the role requires. (Blythe Danner filled both requirements on Broadway.) No matter. Betrayal is Pinter at his wicked best, having us on with his verbal pyrotechnics until the emotional truth explodes in our faces. (R)

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