Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Shadow Dancer

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
In a scene from this movie, we see a man who is walking through a peaceful neighborhood. He is wearing his hooey over his head and somewhere on his body there is a gun. In the distance, we can see a man working on his car. He is the mark. At any moment violence will erupt. After it ends, we are left to wait and see who and how pays the price for it.

Shadow Dancer, as I understood it, is about trust. During the Troubles, a period in the history of Northern Ireland, many people had to choose who to trust. The IRA was fighting the British government and this battle quickly moved to cities, roadsides and even families. The others - pushed away or designated as enemies.

The movie opens with an arrest. A young single mother named Collette is being held in London by an undisclosed security agency. While she waits, she faces a prospect of being charged as an uncompleted in a failed terrorist plot. Then, a man comes into her shattered life and offers her a way out: if the becomes an informant for the MI5, the charges will disappear.

Collette takes up the offer, knowing that her primary target will be her own family.

The scene I wrote about in the beginning is important because it shows how the way this movie covers terrorism. It’s not dynamic, exciting or thrilling in any usually Hollywood way. The assassin is just a kid, and he is walking towards an off duty police inspector. His mark is also an ordinary family man.

Apart from its depiction of the violence and horror of the decades that we now call the Troubles, Shadow Dancer is exceptional at present its plot as a political thriller in a very unsexy environment. Collette handler (played by Clive Owen) is more like a determined bureaucrat than to James Bong. IRA members act courteously and seem kind, in spite of the fact that they committed political killings. Lastly there is Collette herself, focused solely only on staying alive and keeping her child.  Yet almost every interaction she makes with other people in her life is a potential death trap. The movie generates its tension from this fact and steers clear of any bigger political issue or statement.

Out of all the people in the cast (always solid Gillian Anderson is also present) one actor stood out the most. I first became aware of Aidan Gillen when I started watching Game of Thrones. In this show he is excellent in his portrayal of Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger. In Shadow Dancer, Gillen plays Gerry. Garry is an IRA decision maker, but his rank and function is not clear. It’s evident that he has the power and is willing to hurt people for the “cause”. Gillen portrays a normal person that looks usual at every outside aspect. At the same time it’s clear that underneath the skin hides a monster because Garry probably ordered many killings and Colette wouldn’t be any different.

Shadow Dancer is a well thought out thriller about political violence and its cost. It’s bleak, hard and doesn’t water down anything to soothe the audience, both intellectually and emotionally. I found that kind of filmmaking quite refreshing for this movie genre.

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