‘Shadow Dancer’ Movie Review – Ambiguous Ambush
Pacing is one of the hardest things to judge and one of biggest discrepancies from one person to the next. In other words, some people love slow-burning dramas while others simply write them off as “boring.” However, I don’t claim to be “better” than other viewers because I often fall prey to the same thing. Some movies simply don’t interest me – they’re just too boring. With this in mind, it’s certainly understandable if someone doesn’t like James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer. I would ultimately disagree with them, though, because the crime thriller is gripping in a way its pacing isn’t.
Starring Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough (from this year’s Oblivion), Shadow Dancer takes place in Belfast during the 90s. Collette (Riseborough), an undercover Irish Republic Army (IRA) member, botches a London terrorist attack. Mac (Owen), a member of MI5, flips her into an informant to save her son’s life.
Being a spy thriller, it’s more comparable to a movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than The Bourne Identity in its use of action. The dialogue isn’t quite as clunky, but Shadow Dancer is more about the internal conflict than any kind of huge memorable chase scene or shoot-out.
This can be its achilles heel, though, because those are the types of movies we are (generally speaking) used to seeing. I can understand both sides of the argument because this almost seems like a breath of fresh air for the genre. It’s not all the surprising either to realize Marsh, the director, was responsible for the thrilling documentary Man on Wire. Although it’s a documentary about tightroping across the World Trade Center, it plays out like a heist movie.
The pacing lends itself to Riseborough’s performance, too. She is, by far, the standout of the film. Instead of playing into the spy archetype, she plays it a lot more subdued. This helps her character stay a lot more ambiguous…much like what a spy should be!
Ambiguity (and the subtleness of it) is a big reason why the finale works so well. It’s partially because Riseborough and partially because of the pace, but I think it’s more to Marsh’s credit when it comes to tone. The film doesn’t rely on an escalating score or visual appeal. This makes it seem all the more genuine…which should make up for the other problems audiences may find.
Even with a critical backing, Shadow Dancer won’t likely find the huge American audience it deserves. Stepping back, I will admit that the lack of dynamic scenes may be problematic. However, James Marsh’s feature film follow-up to documentaries like Man on Wire and Project Nim has the pacing and tone spy thrillers need. To use these as complaints would play into exactly what’s wrong with the historically-rich genre.
Shadow Dancer premiered in Europe last year. It released in American Video On Demand services in late April and will make a limited theatrical run starting today. Check it out wherever you can find it.
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