Shadow Dancer is an extremely serious but languid thriller set just before the end of the peace process in Northern Ireland. After a promising opening, it seems to suck the life out of both itself and its audience, amassing to a film without the substance
it craves but feels an awful lot more stodgy than it should.
The film begins with a prelude featuring a boy popping out to buy some sweets in 1970s Belfast and getting fatally caught in a crossfire between Republican guards and British forces on the streets. We then meet his sister Colette (Andrea Riseborough), twenty years later on a London underground train, seemingly inauspicious but director James Marsh (best known for his fabulous documentary work: Man On Wire, Project Nim) does an expert job to use the camera to gradually make this opening sequence more and more tense as we see her plant a bomb in a long scene without dialogue. Very early on, the film has peaked. She gets caught and discovers that British intelligence have been monitoring her every move. She is offered the choice by Clive Owen’s character: a long period of imprisonment and lose her son or betray her family’s ties to the IRA and become an informer for MI5?
Clive Owen typically lacks screen presence and is a frustrating vacuum as the film’s apparent moral core. He’s not the worst actor in the world but so often he seems to be thoroughly uninterested. Quality actors such as Aiden Gillen are criminally underused and the film plods around, relishing the seriousness of its subject matter and its protagonist’s dilemma without giving its characters a chance to breathe or any life to be injected. It’s an underwhelming affair lacking cinematic qualities which will struggle to get people to come and see it and just as importantly, struggle to keep those who do see it wide awake.
Review by David Rank
Shadow Dancer is out on 24th August in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 101 mins.
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