Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary from John Malkovich
and Javier Bardem; 'Sundance Channel: Journeys with John Malkovich'
featurette; 'Revealing The Dancer Upstairs' (21 mins); Interactive
menus; Scene access.
INSPIRED by the real-life manhunt for one of South Americas
most notorious terrorists - that of Peruvian Shining Path leader,
Abimael Guzman - The Dancer Upstairs marks the ambitious directorial
debut of actor, John Malkovich, and is a fascinating and frequently
challenging piece of cinema.
Adapted from British writer Nicholas Shakespeares novel,
and set in an unnamed South American country, the film finds Spanish
actor, Javier Bardems ex-lawyer, turned policeman, Rejas,
attempting to track down elusive terrorist leader, Ezekiel, whose
clinical organisation is wreaking havoc on an increasingly desperate
What begins as a series of stark messages, relayed via dead dogs
hanging from trees, or pieces of dynamite strapped to the legs
of chickens, quickly turns into a threat to political stability,
following a series of assassinations and bombings on government
officials, often carried out by children.
Rejas efforts are made all the more difficult by the corruption
which surrounds him, as well as the increasingly desperate measures
employed by the army in executing anyone considered to be a suspect.
Although happily married, he seeks solace in the arms of his
daughters dance instructor, Yolanda (Laura Morante, of The
Sons Room), unaware that her secret political affiliations
could lead him into the eye of the storm itself.
Despite operating on such a broad canvas, it is credit to Malkovichs
skill behind the camera that The Dancer Upstairs works well as
both an intensely moving character study and as a taut and intriguing
political drama-cum-criminal investigation.
As such, an air of uncertainty is felt throughout, with the threat
of an explosion or murder lurking around every corner and serving
to create an uneasy atmosphere for the viewer which exacerbates
the plight of the characters.
As Rejas, Bardem excels, doing much to build on a growing reputation
following his Oscar nominated turn as gay Cuban poet, Reinaldo
Arenas, in Before Night Falls last year.
Malkovich lost out on a lot of funding by choosing to employ
actors better suited to the roles, but his choice of Bardem pays
rich dividends, helping to create one of the more complex and
believable detectives of recent years.
Rejas is an honourable man, forced to confront his own beliefs
and aspirations, as he gets drawn deeper into the hunt for Ezekiel
and the personal torment and sacrifices this brings.
Yet he is ably served by the likes of Morante, as the alluring
Yolanda, and Oliver Cotton, as a sceptical boss, who likens his
detective to a latter-day Gary Cooper.
The look and feel of the movie is also first-rate, serving to
heighten the tension despite a somewhat deliberate pacing, while
the realistic and moving finale befits much of what has gone before.
Its final scene, in particular, will linger long in the memory,
but then this is a film which provides plenty of food for thought
and must rate among the years finest.