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Monday, 10 September 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Shadow Dancer

Directed by: James Marsh

Screenplay by: Tom Bradby

Based on: Shadow Dancer by Tom Bradby

Starring: Andrea Riseborough
Clive Owen
Gillian Anderson
Aidan Gillen
Domhnall Gleeson
Brid Brennan
David Wilmot

Cinematography by: Rob Hardy

Editing by: Nina Gold

Studio(s): Irish Film Board
BBC Films
Element Pictures
Unanimous Pictures

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures (United Kingdom)
ATO Pictures (United States)

Release date(s): January 24, 2012 (United States - Sundance Film Festival)
August 24, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 mins

Country(s): United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: (Unavailable)

Box office revenue: (Unavailable)

Hey hey, folks, the wheels are still rolling on (did I use this cliched metaphor in my last review as well?), and I'm keeping myself busy. I've got The Bourne Legacy and This Must Be The Place on the queue to be reviewed and I'm looking forward in particular to one movie: Dredd. Judge Dredd is one of  my favourite characters and is the ultimate badass, so I've got high hopes for the new movie. I'll try my best to be unbiased on this one, but I'm not making any guarantees, I'll probably be marking out like a freak! Keep your eyes posted for that one in particular!

Today's film here is Shadow Dancer, the new film from James Marsh, who directed 2005's The King. Primarily known for his documentary films Wisconsin Death Trip and the award-winning Man On Wire, this film is a return to fictional territory. Shadow Dancer follows Collete McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a member of the I.R.A. who is forced to become an informant for M.I.5. Set in 1990s Belfast, we're talking about the tail-end of The Troubles, but we are still in that 'Troubles Territory.' I'm always fascinated by the representation of Belfast from the outside looking in, especially given that not many films are coming out of Belfast made by people who have lived there. That said, I'm a believer in the outsider theory. I mean, Robocop is the best movie about Reagan-era 1980s America, and that was made by a Dutchman! If I was to recommend movies about The Troubles, I'd mention Alan Clarke's Elephant and Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday, both of whom are Englishmen. Nevertheless, The Troubles are a touchy subject to this day over here, and although I'm supposed to be unbiased, I was worried about getting pissed off at the depiction of my hometown and it's residents. We'll leave the opinions to the bulk of the review!

So starting with the good, I thought that Andrea Riseborough gave a great lead performance as Collete McVeigh. She has a lot of things to deal with character wise, and handles them all with restraint and finesse. She refuses to tipple into over-dramatic territory, always infusing a reality and believability to the character. Constructing a wise, intelligently constructed portrait, Riseborough is the centrepiece of the film, and deserves praise for doing this part in such a brave way. Also good on the acting front is Clive Owen, who's pretty much always, no matter what the project (just look at Killer Elite), a reliable screen presence. Although he may be considered too old now, I still think he could be a great James Bond. Rob Hardy's digital cinematography also contributes to the film's sense of location and place in the real world. Shaky-cam cliches are absent here, and we are able to see what is going on throughout. Also, Hardy's work is engaging, so that we see these conversations go on many different ways. When the camera is moving, it is done with a documentarian's agenda in mind, a high-point being a terrific shot that lasts roughly two minutes, following a planned hit. In the same sense, I was pleased that the editorial department employed the same aesthetic, so the movie remained consistently technically throughout. Finally, I respect the fact that director James Marsh has shown some tact, both in addressing touchy subject matter, but also in ensuring that Shadow Dancer is at least a consistent film and that there is a level of control exuded.

Shadow Dancer is a consistent film, and while this makes it an admirable film, it is also a uniform film, in that it doesn't have enough to make it stand out from the crowd. For instance, the script, while not bad, is murder-by-numbers and although put into the context of 1990s Belfast, has been done time and time again, and in better ways. I knew just about every which way this film turned before it did, and even the proverbial twists and turns that come with the triller genre did not surprise me at all. Also, while I think Riseborough's Collete is good, none of the other characters onscreen are developed well enough for the actors to give solid performances. When you realise that it's Gillian Anderson and Aidan Gillen onscreen, you can't help but think their parts could have been developed more. Furthermore, the uniformity means that it does got occasionally boring in parts. Also, this movie is afflicted with a terminal case of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra. This overly broody score by Dickon Hinchliffe, which frankly would be bad in its own right, is at clash with the aesthetic set out by the technical departments and direction. Although it features newer instruments, this is the kind of score that in the 1940s would have been more appropriate in a Hollywood melodrama. It's completely out of place, and gives a stinky air of contrivance to what might otherwise be engaging scenes. 

Despite these outstanding flaws in the music and screenplay department, Shadow Dancer is still a good, satisfactory film. James Marsh's direction is solid, and I have a lot of respect for the aesthetic set out in the film's technical department, most specifically in the editing and the cinematography. Clive Owen is a great actor, but Shadow Dancer's centre is a terrific lead performance by Andrea Riseborough, who puts over this film's legitimacy in a part that is complex, interesting and wise in its restrained believability.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.1/10 

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Great (the craic was good round my birthday celebrations!)

P.S. That's not the Newtonards Road!

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