Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shadow Dancer

A young girl sits at a table stringing beads. Her dad had given her some money to 'buy herself some sweets', but she sent her younger brother off for 'the sweets' instead so she could remain with her beads. It alls feels very normal, quiet, unhurried.

As we watch the girl, we catch a momentary glimpse in the background of her brother out on the street as he goes for the candy, then of a man who might be following him – it is just a flash; we are not even sure what we might have seen.

The unhurried pace and sense of normalcy are actually quite disturbing; the lack of a frantic pace or overt foreboding create an air of even more intense disquiet. We sense that something bad is going to happen, we just don't know what or when .- we are literally waiting for the shoe to drop.

Shadow Dancer which screened last night at the Starz Denver Film Festival is a riveting thriller, that is permeated with a sense of disquiet: a sense created by long unbroken takes, often with little or no dialogue; the story unfolding in silence createing a tension that is unsettling.

After a prologue, the film opens with with a woman in riding on the London Underground. It is 1993. The woman, whose eyes constantly dart to those around her and her surroundings, grips the large purse she carries on her shoulder. She changes trains a few times.

There it is again, the sense that something bad is about to happen. Is there a bomb in her purse? Is she a terrorist? The tension builds without anything being said. Tight closeups of her expressionless face actually intensify the tension.

Andrea Riseborough, in a remarkable performance, plays the woman, Collette. She is the now grown adult of the child we had seen in the prologue. She is from a Catholic family in Belfast. Her two brothers are IRA terrorists. She lives with her mother and her young son. We don't know anything about the father of her son.

Collette finally drops her purse in a stairwell as she flees the Underground. We are now certain she is a terrorist and we wait for the bomb to explode, but it doesn't. Instead, Collette is arrested and taken to a secret location. There, though she resists for a long time, she is finally recruited to be a 'spy' on the activities of her brothers and others in the IRA in Belfast. The safety and well-being of her son, some unresolved feelings of guilt and anger all combine to persuade her. Her recruitment is done by Mac, played by Clive Owen. He will be her secret contact.

As the story unfolds there is also a sense that not all is as it appears to be; relationships are complicated and not always straightforward; is there anyone who can be trusted? This is certainly true among the IRA, but it also my be true of the police.

This film takes us back the time of 'The Troubles' where for the most part there don't seem to be any good guys. The bloody extremes of the IRA; the heavy-handed equally extreme measures of the British in Northern Ireland; the foolhardy bravado of 'Up the Rebels' create an environment in which violence and death are everyday occurances; where an eye for and eye, a kill for a killing rule.

The film is based on the novel (1998) of the same name by Tom Bradby, who also wrote the screenplay. Bradby has written five other novels and is the Political Editor for ITN news in the UK.

James Marsh, who heretofore was a documentarian (Man on a Wire, which screened at last years Festival) directs and is responsible for the intensity and edge of the film.

I can't say enough about Riseborough's performance. Understated seems almost an understatement. She does more with less than almost any other actor I can think of. Actually all the performances are good. Brid Brennan as the mother gives an equally understated performance. She is imbued with a sadness that is just there, understated, but there; she has lived a lifetime of the misery associated with 'The Troubles'. Aiden Gillen as Gerry and Domnhall Gleeson as Connor, Collette's two brothers are quite good.

This is great storytelling, with wonderful ensemble work and in particular a standout performance by Riseborough.

The film is not scheduled to screen again at the Festival, but may turn up in the future. I highly recommend it.

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