Drama Movies, by Mike Richardson, 08 September 2012

Director: James Marsh

Stars: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and Gillian Anderson

Country: USA

Runtime: 101 min

Release Date:

Language: English

Shadow Dancer is fictional thriller Set in 1990s Belfast, about a member of the IRA who is coerced into becoming an informant for British Secret Service. This film is closer to Munich than to any Bourne, Bond or Even Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in its depiction of the machinations of espionage and spycraft, and it’s great.

Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer

The history of Northern Ireland around the turn of the last century is dangerous territory for filmmakers, but Shadow Dancer assuredly examines the shades of grey, looking at the troubles from both sides, and focusing on the very personal and human issues at the heart of the conflict.

Shadow Dancer is a deafening whisper of a movie, it seems to be a dawdling concrete-grey postcard of 1990’s Northern Ireland, but without realising it, you’re hooked, well before MI5 agent Clive Owen recruits Republican terrorist Andrea Riseborough to turn informant. Owen and Riseborough are pitch perfect in their respective roles, and their characters (one from each side of the political divide) are sympathetic and repellent in their own ways.

Set in 1993, Shadow Dancer sees Riseborough’s Colette captured by the British Secret Service after an aborted attempt to bomb a London underground station (the films first ballsey move, in light of 7/7). She is given the choice between serving a lengthy prison sentence or return to Belfast, if she works as an informant, for MI5. Colette has a young son waiting at home, but she also has her strong principles, her Republican family and her dogmatic community.

Anchoring the national politics of the troubles (and espionage in general) to a single mother caught between an MI5 rock and an IRA hard place puts Shadow Dancer into a whole different genre. Owen is good, Gillian Anderson, as his (ice-cold) boss is better, but it’s Riseborough who sweeps the acting honours, utterly believable as a disparate woman, living a façade, under pressure, out of her depth and at her wit’s end.

This isn’t a Flemmingesque world of cocktails and first class glamour. Clive Owen plays Mac as a decent man attempting to do a dirty job with dignity and humanity. He deserves praise for being a million miles removed from his persona in the first Bourne film, especially as his name was in the pre-Craig Bond hat. Shadow Dancer keep the rest of the film suitably grubby and tangible, with the Secret Service as an extension of the Civil Service, with grey offices, peopled by anonymous company men box ticking and rubber stamping life-and-death decisions. The real soul of Shadow Dancer isn’t ideological bombast, but the plight the hapless individuals caught in the tangled web of cross and double cross, acting less as heroic combatants, more as collateral damage.
At a taught 101 minutes Shadow Dancer draws maximum tension from the audience, as Colette tries to maintain the pretence of normality in the face of the growing suspicion, while constantly wrestling wither own conscience. James Marsh’s direction runs the mundanity of everyday events and the violence of a domestic war on terror, side by side, due to his background as an award-winning documentary film-maker to great effect.

Shadow Dancer is the best film on release at present.

Shadow Dancer Trailer

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