By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
You may recognize James Marsh’s name from the world of documentaries, a genre that’s won him plenty of acclaim (Project Nim) and even an Oscar/a bit of mainstream success (Man on Wire). His work in fiction has flown quite a bit further under the radar, however. Maybe you remember the Red Riding UK miniseries/trilogy, of which he directed one installment.
If you remember this, welcome to MovieBoozer, Mrs. Marsh!
With Shadow Dancer, he takes another stab at drama. Set in 1990s Northern Ireland, a young IRA operative (Andrea Riseborough) is captured by a MI5 agent (Clive Owen) and given the choice of losing everything, including her young son, or turning on her family and comrades and informing for the English. Her choice to do this becomes an increasingly dangerous proposition for all involved.
The real star here is Riseborough, who you may recognize as the woman who acted the rest of the Oblivion cast under the table earlier this year.
I love Tom Cruise in his best and only role- Tom Cruise- but I’ve seen it before
The entire film rests on her, and she carries it admirably. She has a strong supporting cast, including Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, and Aiden Gillen, but for the most part their roles don’t have enough meat on the bone to do too much with. Owen fares better, in one of his best roles in years, which unfortunately isn’t as big a compliment as it appears to be. He’s good, though.
The story itself is well-constructed, and the film both opens and closes well. The opening scene establishes a heartbreaking character backstory that raises the emotional stakes for the remainder of the film and really draws you in. The film’s bookend is one of those rare open-ended affairs that puts the rest of the movie in a different light and makes you retroactively appreciate it more.
Too bad that middle sags worse than a 40 year old Packer fan’s gut.
What’re you talkin’ about? That’s all muscle!
It’s slow-burning to the point where you wonder whether the fuse has gone out completely, and its tendency to talk about events rather than show them might be due to budgetary reasons, but is annoying nonetheless.
I understand it’s only sunny twice a year in the UK, (that’s what summer and winter solstice are, right?) but you could liven the film’s palette up with a little color, at least. An entire movie of dour browns and greys and washed-out shots wears on the eyes quickly.
One thing that set apart James Marsh’s Man on Wire was its unusually polished visuals for a documentary. You’d think that a fictional narrative would allow Marsh to be even more creative with his shots, but the opposite happens. The look of the flick is inert and uninspired, which is sad because punchy visuals were just what the doctor ordered when the story starts to lag. Oh, and one last gripe- Shadow Dancer is a great title, but really doesn’t have fuckall to do with the film. I hate when that happens.
This is one of those movies that isn’t bad, per say, but is frustrating because it’s so damn mediocre when it should be more than that.
Take a Drink: every time someone mentions bombs or terrorism
Take a Drink: whenever someone acts suspicious of Riseborough
Do a Shot: whenever a young boy is the impetus for a major plot point