January 25, 2012

Sundance Review: Shadow Dancer

Remember a while back when I said that you should all check out the Red Riding Trilogy, and how it was a steely, cool slice of seedy, British crime. One of the directors that gave us that awesome series is James Marsh, who is more well known the Oscar winning documentary Man On Wire. He returns to the realm of middle class, British Isle based criminals and terrorists, and it's a return that could not have been more welcome.

Colette McVeigh saw her brother killed at a young age by the British, and has been a member of the IRA ever since. On a mission to bomb the London Underground, she is blown and taken into custody. In order to protect her young son, she strikes up a deal with and MI5 agent, Mac, and agrees to become an informer. She returns to Belfast and all seems well. But as suspicion for her mounts, she feels the net starting to close in around her. So does Mac, who goes to great lengths to protect her and her son, and soon discovers that there's more to this apparent deal than initially meets the eye.

Based on the novel by Tom Bradby, Shadow Dancer is a slow-burn crime thriller of grace and method. Suspense is the name of the game, and the film has that in spades. And there's not a whole lot of violence either. The bloodiest scene comes at the very beginning, and after that, there's only two or three scenes of quick, blink-and-you'll-miss-it bloodshed. The rest is all sprinting to hide a piece of incriminating evidence just in time, telling looks from across a bar, and conversations where what's being said isn't ever the point.

The cast is all superb, with a good bevy of strong, British character actors. Clive Owen gets top billing (naturally) as Mac, and he's very good. To be fair, an MI5 agent is a role he could play in sleep, but he does a good job regardless. Andrea Riseborough is equally adept as Colette, painting an elegant portrait of maternal drive. Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gillian Anderson also show up in meaty supporting roles, and shine just a bright.

Though it is a little slow at points, but the story really picks up as the tension rackets. And the ending is unexpected and quite shocking. Shadow Dancer could have benefitted from some edits and maybe a few more scenes where the suspense is paramount, but as it stands, it's one mighty fine piece of middle class, British crime.

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