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8/10
An Actor's Showcase and an Excellent Thriller
eht5y5 July 2005
'The Dancer Upstairs' marks John Malkovich's debut as a film director, but it's hardly his first time in the director's chair: Malkovich was a charter member of the now-prestigious Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, where he split time between acting and directing, developing the versatility that has earned him regard as one of the best character actors in the business. He brings a stage director's consciousness to this fine, unexpectedly suspenseful and complex thriller, a fictionalized dramatization of events surrounding the rise and fall of the Shining Path revolutionary movement in Peru.

In the lead role of Detective Augustin Rejas is Javier Bardem, already an established star in his native Spain who is gaining increasingly wide notice in the US for his award-winning turns in Julian Schnabel's 'Before Night Falls' (2002) and Alejandro Amenabar's 'The Sea Inside' (2004). Bardem, like Malkovich, is a wonderfully versatile actor, and this film offers him another fine opportunity to display his range as Rejas, an idealistic police detective who abandoned a promising career as a trial lawyer in the hope that he might be able to work within the system to heal the corruption of his native country (left unnamed, though the story clearly borrows from actual events in Peru).

The film opens on the high plains at the foothills of the Andes, with Rejas working at a highway checkpoint station. He encounters a vehicle bearing a mysterious undocumented passenger. While Rejas follows procedure, his colleague accepts a bribe, and allows the vehicle to flee the scene.

Years later, Rejas has advanced through the ranks and now works as a detective in the nation's coastal capital. He and his partner Sucre (Juan Diego Botto, making the most of a small role) gradually begin to discover evidence of a burgeoning revolutionary movement led by the enigmatic 'Presidente Ezequiel,' whom Rejas eventually realizes to be the same man he met briefly years earlier at the mountain checkpoint. The followers of Ezequiel--a former college professor and Marxist who went underground ten years earlier to foment a 'fourth wave' of communist revolution (the first three being the USSR, China, and Cuba)--begin to terrorize the capital and outlying regions with suicide bombings and brutal assassinations. Rejas must uncover the secret of Ezequiel before the President enacts martial law and turns the government into another version of the brutal dictatorships previously seen in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

As the Ezequiel mystery deepens, Rejas begins to develop an infatuation with his daughter's ballet instructor, Yolanda (Laura Morante), with who he shares an unspoken bond and who seems to be an attractive alternative to his own wife (Alexandre Lencastre), a sweet but superficial woman who obsesses over fashion magazines and makeup and begs her perpetually broke husband to let her get a nose job. Rejas begins to court Yolanda, and as he becomes more deeply involved with her, he begins to discover evidence that she may be knowingly or unknowingly connected in some way to Ezequiel.

The political dimension of the story is fascinating, but the main source of conflict is the interior world of Rejas, a sensitive, morally decent man who is torn between his faith in the law and his sympathy for the people who suffer at the hands of corrupt government officials. Rejas is also torn between his sense of honor and decency and his profound emotional attraction to Yolanda. It's a tough role to pull off, and Malkovich gives Bardem the time and opportunity to draw the character's emotional complexity with subtle, patient, expressive moments and line deliveries. Bardem has the rare ability to convey distinct emotions or states of thought with subtle gestures and nuanced facial expressions, and Malkovich demonstrates an actor's trust in another gifted actor to accomplish the film's emotional subtext.

There are a few problems here and there. Rejas' attraction to Yolanda is understandable, but their burgeoning relationship feels a bit forced and underdeveloped at times. A subplot involving the Chinese embassy is introduced but left more or less unresolved. The plot is vaguely predictable, though, in the film's defense, the suspense has more to do with how Rejas will deal with the revelations his investigation will uncover than with what will actually be revealed.

Even with the flaws, 'The Dancer Upstairs' is a highly intelligent and entertaining film, and offers yet another opportunity for American audiences to become acquainted with the fabulously talented Javier Bardem, who is my pick to be the next Marlon Brando.
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9/10
You must be able to dance in the political world!
taxrice10 June 2004
I would expect a movie directed by John Malkovich to be intense and specific. The Dancer Upstairs is that. It is a political movie that while popular in Europe, does not tend to draw well in the United States. Too bad.

The story tells the tale of a lawyer who has left the law looking for a better system. I don't know that becoming a police detective is that much better, but it serves the story. The story is set in a nameless Latin American country -- which also suits the story line.

Detective Lt. Agustín Rejas (Javier Bardem) has left a law firm where he was a junior partner, to join law enforcement -- with a conscious. He can give a break to a traveler whose papers are not quite right and he can be relentless in his pursuit of a terrorist.

Rejas has been victimized by the politics of his country. His father lost his coffee farm to the soldiers. His view of the judicial system has seen a rapist become president of the country. But still, Rejas finds joy in his beautiful dancer daughter and his wife -- who has a political mission of her own. Then he meets the free spirited dance instructor for his daughter.

Rejas works in a corrupt society where the fiscal corruption goes hand in hand with the moral and political corruption. The central government is all too ready to suspend civil rights and to put military law into effect. The military killing innocent people is fine as long as it suits the party.

Rejas attempts to live the just life and must deal with the corruption the best he can. This conflict is the heart of the movie. As he says, he has feelings about his father losing his farm and he is the Gary Cooper type.

Javier Bardem is excellent in the pivotal role. Juan Diego Botto does a very credible job as Detective Sgt. Sucre. Laura Morante is intoxicating as dance instructor focal point of the story.

I give this move a 9 for great story and suspense, excellent direction and fine acting. There is no sex and very brief nudity. The violence does tend to be horrific and there are depictions of cruelty to animals -- both central to the plot. This is far less than the typical Jason or Chainsaw movies gore.

I consider this an excellent direction debut for John Malkovich and look forward to his next feature film effort. It feels like Malkovich will fill a role similar to Robert Redford in films he has directed.
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Plod got there in the end - no fancy steps required
Philby-35 July 2003
I suppose this could be described as an off-Hollywood detective story with political overtones. It is based on a book by Nicholas Shakespeare (a part-time Australian) who has in turn loosely based his story on the rise and fall of the `Shining Path' or Sendero Luminoso insurgency in Peru (1980-1995). As rendered on film (Shakespeare also wrote the screenplay), we have an immensely likable policemen, Rejas, played to perfection by Javier Bardem, literally searching through the rubbish to find the shadowy Ezequiel, leader of a movement with a fine record of atrocities, but no program or real philosophy.

Nicholas, alas, is no Shakespeare, and the film becomes very slow in parts, though there are plenty of dramatic moments and some crisp editing. Bardem gets good support from some of the other actors such as Juan Diego Botto who plays his sidekick Sucre and Laura Morante as Yolanda the enigmatic ballet teacher he becomes involved with. Most of the cast are Spanish but the prodution was filmed in English, which has created an intermittent audibility problem. The film is also beautifully shot, the locations in Ecuador and Oporto, Portugal, being used to great advantage.

While the film succeeds quite well as a detective story it telegraphs too many punches to work as a thriller. However it's the politics that really let it down. Clearly, we have a not very nice, if elected, government under attack, and it's almost inevitable that the even more not very nice Army is going to step in. Against who? People who load up dogs with dynamite and send them in to crowded marketplaces. People who send in 10 year olds into village cafes to blow up themselves along with some local notables. The explanation for this comes only in one-liners such as `I am already dead, I live only for the revolution.' When Ezequiel, the former philosophy lecturer is finally captured, all he can say is `You cannot capture this ` (tapping his forehead). `We are already part of history.' Surely there is a better explanation for `Shining Path' than this. My own theory is that it is a rather nasty combination of French post-modern philosophy (Derrida, Foucault etc) mixed up with Marxism and Maoism and served up to people with not much to lose. If you are already dead you might as well die for the revolution. It's either that or slave for the whites.

Actually, `Shining Path' had some competition in the shape of Tupac Amaru, who captured the Japanese Embassy in Lima and held 70 or so people hostage for over 4 months in 1996-97, until being overwhelmed by Peruvian commandos who tunnelled in beneath them. None of the guerrillas survived. By the time I visited Lima and the Cuzco area in late 2000 all was quiet on the revolutionary front, though President Fujimori, hero of the embassy siege, despite having won a recent election was on his way out. I haven't read it yet, but I'm told Gustavo Gorriti's `The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru' is a good history of the era.

Maybe it's asking too much for political explanations, though the director clearly wants the film to be compared with Costa-Gravas' excellent `State of Siege' (which is shown briefly at one point and provides a vital clue as to Ezequiel's location). As to the direction, Malkovich seems a little uncertain whether he is making a thriller or something more reflective but he has a good sense of dramatic timing and a good visual sense. Perhaps more attention to the editing would have sharpened up the mood.
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9/10
A very interesting movie with a semi-political subject
Philip Van der Veken18 December 2004
Having seen "Being John Malkovich" recently, I expected a lot from "The Dancer Upstairs" and I have to admit that I really was enchanted by it. Even though it never says which country in South America this story is based on, it's clear that it must be Peru. There just are too many references to the rebel movement The Shining Path, president Fujimori... But it's good that it never says that it is actually Peru. There are more South American dictatorships, more rebel movements...

It tells the story of an ex-lawyer who has become police officer, because he wanted justice to be done in the right way. He has to hunt down and arrest a revolutionary guerilla leader, but as he digs deeper, he'll find out that more people are actually supporting the rebels than he thought, even the people that he never suspected...

What I liked so much about the movie is the way it portrays everything. It doesn't fear to show the violence committed by both sides, but also shows the beautiful side of the country (its landscapes, its culture,...). Some say this is clearly a right-wing movie and that Malkovich is right wing as well. What has the political preference of the director to do with it? This movie isn't right-wing, nor is it left-wing. It clearly shows both sides, giving you the police detective who works for the right-wing government, who falls in love with the left-wing activist.

If there is one remark that I have to make, than it must be the fact that the actors didn't speak in Spanish. Now they had some weird Spanish-English accent. But all the rest was really very good. I give it an 8.5/10.
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imperfect but intriguing crime drama
Roland E. Zwick3 January 2004
Actor John Malkovich makes an auspicious directorial debut with `The Dancer Upstairs,' an intriguing, if not altogether satisfying, police procedural set in an unnamed Latin American country.

Javier Bardem (`Night Must Fall') gives a richly textured performance as Detective Augustin Rejas, a man of principle and ethics operating in a world of corruption and violence. Rejas finds himself embroiled in a life-and-death mystery when he investigates an underground terrorist organization that is targeting key government officials for assassination. Who these people are is not at all clear to those in charge and even their motives can only be guessed at. As Rejas studies the clues in search of answers, he becomes drawn to a beautiful young dance teacher with whom he establishes a platonic yet highly charged romantic relationship. It is in the bringing together of these two seemingly disparate plot lines that the movie fails, ultimately, to satisfy. For roughly the first three quarters of the film, as Rejas collects his evidence and unravels the puzzle, we gladly go along where the filmmakers are taking us, fascinated by the setting, the atmosphere and the contemporary relevance of the terrorism theme. But when, towards the end, the story kicks into high tragedy mode, the movie loses us, partly because the plotting itself is not particularly credible and partly because the relationship between Rejas and the woman has not been sufficiently developed to achieve the status of genuine tragedy. The film is much better when it sticks to the business of the case and leaves all the existential navel-gazing out of the mix.

This is not to demean either the moving, beautifully modulated performance of Bardem or the stark, self-assured direction of Malkovich, who shows he knows how to function as well behind the camera as he does in front. True, the film is a trifle slow at times but this just shows that Malkovich will not be rushed when the material itself demands deliberation and care. Although the movie is about a half hour too long, real languor begins to set in only during the final stretches. Until then, `The Dancer Upstairs' makes for rewarding viewing.
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8/10
Gripping
ian_harris31 December 2002
Very closely based on Guzman and the Shining Path Maoist terrorists in Peru, this movie is compulsive viewing.

The plot is fairly standard good cop tracks down bad guys - there are no bonus points for this plot. Indeed, some of the coincidences that arise as the film goes on are the weakest link in this otherwise near-flawless movie.

There has been much talk about the violent scenes in this movie, which are many, but especially the scenes with animals. My view is that it is no more morally wrong to depict violence to animals than it is to depict violence to humans, as long as no animal (or human) is actually harmed in making the depiction. We are told that none of the animals were harmed in the making of the film (and presumably also none of the people). As far as I am concerned that is the end of that matter - the use of animals, unhamred, for this purpose is acceptable. To argue otherwise I find, frankly, daft. However, I would recommend that people who get particularly upset when violence to animals is depicted should simply avoid this movie.

Back to the movie - the acting and the cinematography are superb. It is gripping - the film is 135 minutes long which is well past my attention span unless the film is really good. This film is just that.
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A promising debut
R. J.30 March 2003
A curious but not entirely unexpected idiossyncratic choice from John Malkovich for his directing debut, this adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare's novel fictionalising the capture of the leader of the Peruvian Shining Path revolutionary movement is a more pensive, less political throwback to the European "political thrillers" of the 1970s made popular by directors such as Costa-Gavras. Malkovich, however, dislocates the film's centre from politics into personal mores, following the story of Javier Bardem, as the police detective assigned to discover the whereabouts of the mysterious terrorist leader "Ezequiel". In a superbly controlled performance, Bardem emphasizes the vulnerability of this disenchanted, seen-it-all cop thrown against his will into the frying-pan and the way he attempts to maintain his dignity and uphold the law he no longer believes in. Malkovich proves an engaging director - despite its lengthy running time (and although it could use a slight trim), the film is neither predictable nor overstays its welcome, and the actors deliver consistently good performances. One wishes Malkovich had looked for a better story to tell, but as debuts go this is a promising one.
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9/10
An impressive, deep, and finely constructed movie
Chris_Docker8 December 2002
Javier Bardem plays a head of police in an unnamed South American country that is teetering between a corrupt government and an even more corrupt revolutionary movement. The film's preoccupations, however, are moral dilemmas and the nature of corruption, the movie's bent is primarily aesthetic, and the acting, screenplay and direction are simply little short superb. The characterisation of a man deeply torn in a search for decency and ultimately failing somewhat through his own higher aspiration is, by Hollywood standards, monumental. This is a film that is at once gripping, original, deep and subtly crafted. The role of the dancer is also, in its own right, a complex one and one which begins to address the nature of evil, the ability of art to take us beyond logic (in both a positive and a dangerous way) and also underlines that art generally, unless specifically directed, is neither good nor evil, but more a door that we can open.
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Round Up the Unusual Suspects!
noralee22 June 2003
The film's trailer, which rain endlessly for months in advance at my local art house, and the reviews, etc., have emphasized this as a political thriller. But in fact it's really in the tradition of "Casablanca," where politics is a constant background to only part of the hero's motivation. I did expect someone to say "Round up the usual suspects!"

Awkwardly in this day and age, the Latino actors in the film's unnamed Latin American country (it was filmed in Ecuador and Madrid) all speak (accented) English, with subtitles to indicate when characters are speaking an Indian dialect, i.e. when the hero lawyer/detective is using his heritage to solve the complex case of politically-motivated murders.

But it's the complex layers that make this more interesting than Costa-Gavras' didactic "State of Siege" that is repeatedly referred to as an inspiration, both to director John Malkovich and the revolutionaries, and making this akin to HBO's "The Wire" in showing how a flawed cop can stick to his professionalism amidst deadly-serious bureaucratic and real politics.

The cop's simplistically drawn Beverly Hills matron-type wife turns out to incidentally help him uncover a clue, as he gradually comprehends the cynicism of a revolution that uses unexpected types of cells for suicide missions, with resonance for the MidEast as well, as ideologues are more diabolically dangerous than criminals.

That the dancer is actually downstairs is emblematic of the film's genre confusion.
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Impressive and assured debut
rogerdarlington13 December 2002
Acclaimed actor John Malkovich has made his directorial debut with an assured political thriller that combines tension and intelligence to make for a gripping two and a quarter hours. The setting is a South American country which is unnamed, but the clear inspiration for the storyline is the early 1990s experience of Peru (which I have recently visited) when the bizarre Abimael Guzman led the murderous Shining Path movement, while the movie was shot in Spain, Portugal and Ecuador.

Javier Bardem plays Augustin Rejas, a former lawyer turned policeman who manages rare dignity and honesty as he battles with the interventions of a regime teetering on the edge of a military dictatorship and the pursuit of a fanatical revolutionary codenamed Ezekiel, while struggling with the varying emotions associated with a vapid wife, an adoring daughter, and his daughter's dance teacher, the eponymous and allurring woman upstairs (Laura Morante as Yolanda). Bardem - who reminds me of an early Raul Julia - gives a languid yet charismatic performance and hopefully we will see much more of this talented actor.

In some respects the work is reminiscent of Costa-Gavras's "State Of Siege", a clip of which is actually used here. However, the movie is based on a novel by the British writer Nicholas Shakespeare, who wrote the screenplay which features some conversation in Quechua (a native language of Peru and Bolivia), and this is a more personal examination of terrorism than the 1973 movie.
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6/10
Bardem great
SnoopyStyle28 December 2016
It's Latin America in the Recent Past. Agustín Rejas (Javier Bardem) is a Sergeant manning a road check. The country is corrupt with a militaristic Presidency. Rejas is a former lawyer ready for a promotion in the capital. A mysterious man with others and a dead dog in a truck escape the checkpoint. Then it's five years later. He's a police Lieutenant. With his young partner Sucre (Juan Diego Botto), he's investigating a mysterious revolutionary group led by Ezequiel. They hang dogs from the lamp posts. The violence escalates as leaders get assassinated. Yolanda (Laura Morante) is Rejas' daughter Laura's dance teacher. He begins an affair with her as he suspects her connection to Ezequiel.

The non-specificity of the time and place could have been improved by weaving the real story into this movie. It doesn't have to be perfect and most movies aren't real biographies anyways. The great aspect of this is Bardem and the sense of Latin America that this projects. John Malkovich is directing for the first time and he shows some competency. It is well-made and most importantly, he focuses on Bardem. The story does leave some questions. The ballet teacher's connections to everyone is very convenient. The investigation is not that clear. I don't know how nebulous the book is but adapting may have left something out of the movie. It would help to have great clarity, and better intensity.
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6/10
What about motivation?
Ataraxia-116 May 2003
It was interesting, with some beautiful footage and an interesting, slow pace given the intensity of the plot. However, Malkovich seems to have forgotten an important component of the film: namely, the motivation of the characters. We learn nothing about the characters or their lives or their country. We don't know why there is a Revolution. We don't know why Ezequiel is a compelling leader to this revolution. We don't know why Rejas works so hard at finding Ezequiel, given a total lack of support for his efforts on behalf of his country. We don't know why he is dissatisfied with his relationship with his wife. We don't know why he is drawn towards his daughters ballet teacher. We don't know why she is drawn towards Ezequiel.

Adding all of these unknowns up made for a story and characters without much substance; it caused me not to be able to identify with them, and in the end, the story felt as "fake" as the unnamed latin country. I kept thinking of "Moon Over Parador" which I am certain is not the imagery that Malkovich wanted me to have.
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10/10
Starts in Garcia Marquez territory to build up toward a Graham Greenesque finale
paolo_bf3 April 2008
The movie starts in a Garcia Marquez dreamy South America, or, for people versed in Italiana, like in a Fruttero and Lucentini Turin-based political thriller where esoteric philosophical notions mix with reality, but things soon hot up and, hey presto, we find ourselves in Graham Greene's 'Honorary Consul' territory. Where 'Ezechia' philosopher and revolutionary leader bear more than a little resemblance to Peru Sendero Luminoso's Abimael Guzman. It is John Malkovich's second time in the Director chair, and he deserves great credit for his decision to almost single-handedly bring Nicholas Shakespeare's novel to the silver screen. People may argue that this movie is stylistically and formally floored, I personally don't care, I loved this movie, it is absorbing with a complex, unconventional plot which makes you think. And by the end we all, like Xavier Bardem's Captain Rejas, will end up falling for vulnerable femme fatale Yolanda, beautifully played by Laura Morante. Purists may object to an English language movie set in South America and where the actors are mostly Spanish, but nowadays this seems to have became, alas, fairly common! On the whole, highly recommended!
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6/10
Takes restraint to an entirely new level
Rogue-3215 June 2003
This film, John Malkovich's debut as a director, seems to go out of its way to be everything a commercial film is not, which is a hugely commendable thing up to a point. Bardem is unbelievably restrained in this exercise; in fact the entire film is an exercise in restraint. I think what the movie needed was just a little more passion, some change in tone at some point to truly bring it to life.
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10/10
Top 10 Javier Bardem movie
cowboyerik9 May 2014
Easily a top 10 movie for any Javier Bardem fan, most incredible drama based on a true story. Incredibly well done movie on the part of John Makovich, should be a solid 8.5 rating. Suffers from 7.0 due to poor distribution network. Supporting roles are well cast, movie is well thought out and executed. Worthwhile addition to any Javier Bardem collection! I hope to get my copy autographed one day!

While not really filmed on location in Peru due to security concerns, the producers and directors went thru great lengths to make the movie feel like it was shot on location in Peru. Choice of English for primary language and the native tongue Quecheun for key dialogues was GREAT!!!!
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5/10
Pretty good, but
Blaine Dixon6 October 2005
Pretty good, but..., 12 January 2003 7/10 Author: cyberpix says....

>"I may be called a language extremist, but I was very disturbed by the >fact that they were all speaking English. Yes, Malkovich speaks English, >as most of his potential public. But still, there is no reason for >Spanish-speaking actors in a Spanish-speaking story set in a >Spanish-speaking country to do so !!!"

Are you disturbed by so many English Speaking films set in English speaking countries that are dubbed into Spanish?

Why am I required to post ten lines when cyberpix got his posted with less than ten lines?
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5/10
The first and only film directed by John Malkovich
ma-cortes6 July 2004
The movie centers upon investigations to find a terrorist brain . The starring is Javier Bardem who makes an excellent interpretation , the support cast is good : Juan Diego Botto, Elvira Minguez ,Natalia Dicenta , among others .

The yarn talks about Alberto Fujimori and his time . In 1990 is elected President of Peru. In 1992 carried out a state's coup and he ruled over steadily , fought against the terror and vanquished ¨Sendero Luminoso¨ terrorists and imprisoned to the chiefs . In 2000 he runs away to Japan framed of corruption as his assistant Montesinos . The flick specially deals with difficulty to discover the black hand to run the awful murders mostly placed on Ayacucho.

In the film there are thriller , drama, action , suspense , love , but is a little bit boring . Direction by John Malkovich is slow-moving , Alberto Iglesias's music is nice but downbeat , Jose Luis Alcaine's cinematography is good . John Malkovich is better acting than filming.

Rating : 6/10 average .
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3/10
a shallow film by a pretentious "director"
Rogermex26 May 2003
A classic case of undue hype. It's difficult to itemize all the different ways that Malkovich blew it. The film is not dramatically gripping at all. Most of the scenes are night scenes or otherwise shot in darkness, probably so as to look arty but not throw too much light on the "director"s ineptitude. One of the central characters, Yolanda, appears to be in some conflict about the police investigator's romantic interest in her, but the nature of the conflict is not dramatically sensible even at the end. The ditzy glamor-obsessed wife is just that - a stereotype of a glitzy, glamor-obsessed wife. In fact most of the characters are just "cardboard" caricatures. The gratuitous scenes of gory mayhem are indeed just gratuitous scenes of gory mayhem. I have no problem at all with violence in films. But Malkovich is just cynically tossing off stuff that he thinks is "shocking." How the hell did he find a leading man chosen because he looks like a perfectly-coifed Raoul Julia? And why do we need that? Come to think of it, has there ever been a police character in any movie with such dark pits of sunken eyes as that police chief? The investigator gets a note from Yolanda at the end, and rushes off in his car. Directed to "act" heartbroken by a stunned look and doe-like eyes, he ends up confirming that the dramatic theme is his infatuation with his own daughter. Uh huh. Deep. Let's get back to Malkovich. This is making me nauseous all over again like after leaving the movie. John really ought to stay in his place, as a weird, "fascinating" screen presence himself. In interviews he has virtually bragged about how much stage directing experience he has. God bless you, John. (And John, I know you are reading this, because you are too much of an egomaniac not to read it.) But you sold and pushed a really cheesy attempt at directing a film "drama," and somehow got people to market it with colossal hype. Frankly, I'd offer this up to Crow and Tom Servo if they were still at it.

[By the way, there is a cute little scene in the middle of the movie. Traffic is all congested after a terrorist attack. In the middle of the traffic chaos is what appears to be the local schizophrenic gesturing absurdly like a traffic cop. Notice the size and body. We can't see his face because of a funny hat. I'd bet a box of donuts that Malkovich thought (auteur touch!) that he should put himself in a little walk-on cameo, with the "joke" that he is "directing" in the center of all the complexity around him.]
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involving but unsatisfying
aphor16 May 2003
This is a dark, terrible, sometimes dry, sometimes oversaturated, view of a story from an aloof but vulgar perspective. I'm sorry Mr. Malkovich, but it at least failed in the edit. Apologetically, it could have been a technical constraint, but the cinematography was often too tight, leaving the viewer with tunnel vision in the attempt to share the actors' scenes. The story was also zeroed in on a narrow slice of the subjects' history so that it was difficult to connect with the characters. The exposition of the thriller plot was too disconnected, and I found myself not caring how things ended up. I was searching for the dimension of the film that received the most artistic attention.

What this movie triumphed in, as I was able to appreciate, was costume. I never had any trouble figuring out why anyone was where they were in a shot, doing whatever they were doing because the costume told me who they were, and the connections were seamless in that dimension. Also, the cinematography at times was too gorgeous. Making a trailer would be easy work. The dull points starkly bored me, and the rich points overwhelmed me. The depiction of violence was appropriately disturbing. The lack of any real character development was disheartening. The dullness of the nonviolent shots made me wonder if Malkovich had a clear idea of how to expose anything else in the story.

Maybe part of his intention was to dehumanize everyone a little bit so that the viewer could struggle for a sense of compassion for the characters, but there wasn't enough going on in every scene and I failed to suspend my disbelief that these were real people experiencing real drama. I saw beautiful actors, acting beautifully, but I didn't feel involved. As a viewer, I felt separated from the story, like I was on the outside looking in, with bad seats, wondering if I just missed something. There's good stuff to see, but it doesn't hold together.

Give me more medium shots, and pan around the set so I can get more of the characters' perspectives to establish each set. Tell me more about the people involved in the drama. Show me how the drama is changing those characters. Give me more, but the costume, casting, setting, and some of the arty shots like the dancer between the opposing mirrors and the cutaways of the first hanging dog discoveries were all just right. Don't overdo any of that stuff.
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Excellent Political and Social Commentary
eung5554 February 2004
This film is entrancing and intriguing. Others here have described the pace as slow, but I prefer to think of it as well paced and well measured. The characters are real and unlike the acting that you would see in a Hollywood-style production, the characters exhibit emotions that are true. For instance, when Lt. Rejas enters into the shanty town with his drawn pistol, his hands are shaking and his actions are jerky, unlike the Rambo-esq confidence exhibited by the standard movie cop. Laura Morante as Yolanda is enchanting and hauntingly beautiful. The unstated attraction between the two lead characters is palpable in the film. All of this, though, merely enhances a wonderfully illustration of and commentary on the relationship between the rule of law and the rule of man (or the military in this case) in South America.
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8/10
A great directorial debut in a film of rare sociopolitical richness
ALauff15 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
John Malkovich's directorial debut is this deeply lyrical character study of a morally upright cop (Javier Bardem) trying to make sense of an inexplicably violent world. As played by Bardem, Augustin's face registers a near-constant state of moral warfare—redolent of Benicio Del Toro's work in Traffic—even as wry grimaces betray the absurdity of his situation. In an unnamed Latin American capital, asphyxiated dogs hang from light poles, placards featuring baleful epigrams written in blood drooping from their necks. It is the calling card of mysterious revolutionary leader Ezequiel, whose seemingly limitless queue of self-effacing disciples—including suicide-bomber children and machine gun-wielding Catholic schoolgirls—uncomfortably echoes radical groups in the Middle East and many points between. But what raises this film above topical exploitation is the provocative decision by screenwriter Nicholas Shakespeare—who also wrote the novel—and John Malkovich to disregard American foreign policy completely (not even a mention of the UN) and to only address the story in localized terms. Perhaps it is specious of me to assume the U.S. would jump into such a hotbed environment of interior social discord, but judging from its parallels with Haiti, both the location here and the situation—revolutionaries rebel against an elected (an appointed?) president—seem eerily ripe for external overhaul.

The film's perspective of self-reliance is illustrated in Augustin's decision to bring Ezequiel down without reporting to the president—a breach of etiquette that circumvents state-appointed justice and speaks to a desire for a unilateral democracy empowered by the people. This idea of unilateral democracy is fresh in its refusal to blame anyone—including the shadowy, nominally communist radicals who kill with startling stealth and brutality—for the problems of the world. Shakespeare and Malkovich's idealism in this regard is tremendously heartening: The assumption that countries not only take pride in resolving their own conflicts given the chance—and not without significant losses, as an early montage illustrates in gruesome detail—but desperately need to, lest they remain fledgling nonentities into the foreseeable future, strikes me as a very reasonable progressive idea. Anyway, breaking away from the soapbox, it is clear in those penultimate scenes that Bardem faces a unique existential crisis—what is the price of selling out? And the last shot, punctuated by the strains of a probing Nina Simone ballad, is the work of a seasoned humanist.
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This is the best slow movie you will see all year.
jdesando24 May 2003
This is the best slow movie you will see all year. The devilish-eyed, manic actor John Malkovich direct his first feature, `The Dancer Upstairs,' with mature visual depth and some character development only a bit faster than the movement of 31 glaciers I recently saw in Alaska. You won't take your eyes off of Javier Bardem either (`Before Night Falls') as Augustin, a former Latin-American lawyer turned investigator trying to find Ezequiel, a revolutionary leader causing mayhem with symbolic atrocities meant to destabilize the new government.

Bardem, who memorably played Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas in `Before Night Falls,' is completely different here as a slightly clueless cop with strong intuition and a feeling for his daughter's ballet teacher (the `upstairs' dancer) that complicates his marriage and profession. Malkovich sets the pace to the character's measured approach to his case and his life, the latter memorably occupied by a frivolous wife obsessed with her looks. Slow as Augustin is, I couldn't help but feel that Malkovich sacrificed modern quick-cut noir for old-fashioned reality depicting the difficult and elusive tracking of a master criminal.

But Malkovich kicks into high action, cross cutting gear when Augustin is close to capturing Ezequiel, and the director gently presents an irony, otherwise known as a plot twist, that perfectly represents the naïve detective (he and the ballet teacher play a game at a cantina that shows how wrong our first impressions of character can be) and the insidious corruption of even the most virtuous in volatile Latin countries.

In addition to the delicious character creation, the director shows the disquieting effects of martial law, forcing an American audience to think quietly about the long-term effects of Ashcroft/Rumsfeld terrorist detentions. Costa-Gavras's `State of Siege' has a part in the film and serves as a touchstone for Malkovich's success. Malkovich doesn't have the master's energetic indignation, but he does have his Graham-Greene ability to show flawed heroes saving themselves from destruction in a boiling climate by watching, waiting, and surviving.

`The Dancer Upstairs,' written by Nicholas Shakespeare from his novel, is a delicate dance of intrigue whose rewards are waiting for those who wait to find out that `The fourth stage of communism is just a big fat man in a cardigan.'
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1/10
awful irresponsible portrayal of latin America
ajarifus7 July 2004
Okay, maybe Malkovich didn't intend to make a historical movie, but the references to the case of sendero luminoso, the terrorist movement in Peru, are obvious, and some degree of fidelity, if not with the story itself at least to the Latin American reality might have made it better. This portrayal of Latin America as a 'banana republic' is awful, clichéd and, I'd say, also irresponsible. There's a scene were Laura Morante is walking down a market street, and in the back there's soldiers pointing machine guns at pedestrians and making them lie on the ground to search them. Where's that??? It's as clichéd as the images in the last James Bond movie, where Cuba is portrayed as a place where there's dancers dancing salsa in every corner. But this pretends to be a good movie. Come on, it's awful. But apart from the story itself, I thought that as a movie it was also really bad, boring and, again, full of clichéd moves in the story (the romance between the dancer and the policeman, for instance, was that necessary??). The characters were shallow as was the story in general.

One last thing: having Spanish speaking actors speak in English in a movie that is supposedly set in a Spanish speaking place??? Why?? It would have worked much better if they'd have spoken Spanish and have the movie subtitled. Anyway, I don't recommend it.
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