The Irish don’t just get drunk and start bare-knuckle boxing, they actually plant bombs under cars too.
Single mother Collette McVeigh (Andrea Risenborough), lives with her mother and IRA brothers in Belfast during the 90’s, when politics and the rest of the economy clashed. After a failed-attempt at blowing up a train station, Collette is taken in by a MI5 Officer named Mac (Clive Owen) who gives her two choices: either fight the defense, go to jail for 25 years, and lose sole-custody of her son, or, work with the officer in finding the main culprit in these bombings and attacks. Collette decides to go with the latter, but it does come with its perks.
Thrillers like these are usually my favorite cups of tea, because they never really dleve into what makes thrillers so popular. Rather than just giving us all of the action on a silver-platter filled with guns, girls, car-chases, blood, and violence, we get plenty of chatting, exposition, coffee dates, and secret meetings that are usually handled with an exchange of papers with a stamp that says “CONFIDENTIAL”. That’s how I like my thrillers, but rarely do you ever get to see them because let’s face it: the average, movie-going audience isn’t too concerned with a bunch of people staring and talking, they want to see explosions!! And those types of people aren’t wrong to want that, but for some of us, we prefer it when a movie takes it’s near and dear time with it’s story and doesn’t get right into all of the action the most-conventional way possible. However, in some cases, it sometimes helps.
This is one of those cases where it definitely would have.
Director James Marsh seems to take all of his documentary-chops, and bring them to an actual narrative-flick very well, where we follow this story from point-A, to point-B, with just about enough information and details laid-out for us on the ground, so that we can make up our minds on and see what we can get through. However, not everything you need to know about this story is told to you at first, or even, hell, the whole movie. Sometimes, there are elements to this story that are only alluded to and briefly hinted at, but overall, left to make up for our own minds which I actually liked.
I like it when a movie doesn’t talk down to me and at least respects the viewer for who they are, and what they are able to comprehend. If you think about it, the audience that is going to go out and see this movie, is seeing it for a reason, so treat them like they deserve to be treated. Let them make up their own minds, build up their own ideas, and then, get ready to shock them as you tell them what’s really going on. For the most part, that is the idea of film making that Marsh seems to be having the most fun with, and absolutely revels in the idea of building and toying with suspense, and the format it usually comes in with films like these. Plenty of times, I wondered to myself just what was going to go down next, how it was going to happen, and why, but it never really got to that breaking point, and that’s where I feel like this movie loses some of it’s ground.
There is such a thing as to when a film is almost “too subtle for it’s own good.” This is one of those glaring-examples. Like I mentioned before, everything that you are supposed to know about this story is told to you to right away, but not all of it. That allows for you wait for some mysteries, some tension, and a whole lot of guessing to go down, but it also makes you feel as if you are missing out on a big chunk of this story that should have really made this more than just some story about a chick who rats on her boys.
The idea of there being some sort of “attraction” between Mac and Collette is mentioned, oh so briefly in the movie that when I first heard it, I didn’t really think much of it nor did I care. However, later on in the movie once things got a bit heated, then it comes up again, but this time, it’s more obvious and front-and-center. It was strange to see because the movie never really made much of an effort to go that way with it’s story, nor did it really seem to do anything for the movie either. It just sort of happened, as if Marsh needed to add some more dramatic-heft to the proceedings, because the idea of having this chick constantly not know when she’s going to be caught for being an informant wasn’t enough.
In that essence, the movie struggled for me and once the final twist was brought to my attention, I somehow lost all feeling for these characters, this story, and what was really going. That’s not to say that this movie isn’t good in the least bit, but at the end of the day, you do still feel as if you’ve been a bit cheated out of something that was so damn promising and so damn tense in the first place. Why they had to screw with it all in the beginning, I’ll never, ever know.
But what I do know is that this cast does all that they can to not only keep this material alive and breathing, but very interesting as well. After showing up in the big-budget, sci-fi fest Oblivion, Andrea Risenborough seems to really want to make a name for herself, and I think she should because what we have here is a girl that has that distinctive look and feel to her, that seems very naturally-gripping, right as soon as you see her. In this movie’s case, we first see Risenborough walk through a subway as she contemplates where to put a bomb of hers and how to get away with it. The scene itself isn’t just tense because we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but because of the sure-look of desperation and worry on her face. The ladies got plenty of skills to make any character she plays work, but also give us the chance to do what we can to reach out to her and see if she’ll return the favor. She sort of does, however, that’s more of because of Risenborough and her ability as an actress, and less of how the character was written.
Clive Owen is also another one that’s willing to give us that look of a dude who’s always tense and determined, no matter what it is the hell that he’s going through. Granted, his own story of being lied to by his boss is a bit annoying as it constantly intercepts all of the mystery that’s surrounding Collette’s story, but I will say that Owen always makes it a tense and fulfilling watch because the dude knows exactly how to make a character work, even if he doesn’t give him much of a personality. What you do know about him is that he’s a dude that does his job, and will protect this girl at any costs. Sounds like a nice guy to me, doesn’t it?
Also, we need more of Gillian Anderson! Seriously, ever since the last X-Files movie, this chick has been M.I.A. Come on back to the real world, Scully!
Consensus: There is a great sense of palpable tension and intrigue in Shadow Dancer, but most of it is undermined by the fact that there isn’t much else really going on here, and if there is, the movie doesn’t seem too concerned with telling us at all. Just wants to keep us in the dark, for the sake of doing so.
6 / 10 = Rental!!