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Shadow Dancer - Review

Shadow Dancer

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

JAMES Marsh may be better known for acclaimed documentaries such as Man On Wire and Project Nim but he proves himself equally adept at drama with Shadow Dancer, an intelligent look at terrorism that quite possibly rates among the year’s best.

Slow-burning it may be but this is a film that eschews anything unnecessarily flashy in favour of probing characterisation and mounting tension. As a result, it enables Andrea Riseborough to provide a stunning showcase of her acting credentials, as well as strong performances from Clive Owen and Domhnall Gleeson.

The film picks up in London in 1993 as IRA would-be bomber Colette (Riseborough) is picked up by MI5 while attempting to leave a device on London’s Underground.

Coerced into spying on her brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domnhall) by MI5’s Mac (Owen), Colette must carefully win back the trust of her family while remaining one step ahead of those who would silence her forever or place her behind bars.

Marsh’s film is based on a script from Tom Bradby, who has, in turn, adapted his own novel of the same name and drawn from his own experiences as a TV reporter in Belfast during the ‘90s.

It provides a gripping insight into the complexities of dealing with terrorism, both from the perspective of those perpetrating it as well as those trying to prevent it. And it unfolds in a resolutely old fashioned kind of way, building a sustained sense of paranoia where no one can really be trusted and absolutely no one is safe.

Marsh also draws from his own experience as a documentary filmmaker to inform the strong sense of character that informs the movie. These people feel like real people, as complex as they are often fatally flawed, and there isn’t always a clear hero.

Riseborough’s Colette may illicit our sympathy at several points, given her tragic past and the hopelessness of her current predicament, but she’s also a stone-cold killer at heart and capable of making decisions that are in her own best interests.

Owen, too, shows a ruthless streak in dealing with her, as well as a compassion that frequently places him at odds with his own conscience and the needs of his superiors. While Colette’s brothers, her mother and wider IRA network all add to the complexity of an increasingly claustrophobic situation from which not everyone can hope to emerge unscathed.

Marsh, to his credit, also succeeds in playing his cards close to his chest throughout and delivers a number of surprises, right down to a sucker punch ending that feels perfectly in keeping with the film’s overall tone.

Hence, while Shadow Dancer may be a little too real and pedestrian for those who prefer to get their kicks from high-octane terror-driven thrillers, it’s an intelligent, even haunting affair that simply oozes with class.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 101mins
UK Release Date: August 24, 2012