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The multi-dimensional layers of the Northern Ireland troubles offer
rich pickings to thriller writers. Several good books have appeared,
but films about the era have yet to find their feet. As with Vietnam
War films for the Americans, time and perspective are required before
stories stripped of partisan hyperbole emerge. The eponymous book upon
which this film is based is written by BBC journalist Tom Bradby who
reported from Northern Ireland in the 1990's, the era in which this
film is set. With funding from the BBC, Eire and the Lottery Fund the
politics was always going to be a problem, however Bradby neatly
sidesteps this by producing an apolitical thriller, not a polemic.
There are no good guys/bad guys as such, just people responding to a
time and period over which they had no control. The Director, James
Marsh , directed the acclaimed documentary "Man on Wire". That
documentary experience combined with Bradby's journalistic training
sets the tone for the film.
National reviews for Shadow dancer have been very good, but should be viewed with some caution. Bradby is a popular figure amongst the journalist community and some of the notices have owed more to the principle of doing a friend a favour, than exercising due critical discipline.
For raw material, The Troubles take some beating. The British Government in 1968 was not that bothered about Northern Ireland, nor were the people of the Mainland, but were forced into upholding the Constitution. British Colonialism was the last thing on British minds. British troops arrived to safeguard catholic lives and property, then became the enemy through no fault of their own. The Catholic population was right to demand equal rights and in the absence of Protestant dominated Stormont Government had no alternative other than to call upon the IRA to defend them. But the 1970's IRA quickly developed into a very different beast to the Michael Collins era IRA, with splinter groups such as the INLA even further removed, mirrored by the Protestant UDA and UVF. Turf wars and criminality soon became as important as politics.The British people really were not concerned about whether Northern Ireland was in , or out, of Britain but took exception to its soldiers being killed and its cities bombed. Equally, the Eire government was keen to play the united Ireland card for political purposes but dreaded the day when the practicalities actually came about, as Northern Ireland would then become Dublin's problem, not London's. It is against this backdrop that the film is set.
Shadow Dancer eschews all the aforementioned intrigue in favour of a people, rather than events driven story, and works well because of it. The running time of 100 minutes is tight for a thriller with screen time dominated by Clive Owen as Mac, an MI 5 handler, and Andrea Riseborough as Collette, an IRA volunteer. Both are well cast and convincing, but the intensity of that relationship does not have sufficient screen time which undermines a key dimension of the film. There is little overt action in this story in the form of explosions, violence or chases. Bradby does well to keep the narrative moving, Marsh's grasp of on screen drama is less assured.
The opening quarter of an hour is very strong. We are initially taken back to 1973 when Collette, as a little girl , delegates a shop errand that her father had given her to her little brother, only for him to be killed by a stray bullet in the street. Then in 1993 we see her as a Failed, and captured, London bomber. Dialogue is at a minimum, action, motive and result are implied not overt. So far so good. However the turning of Collette as an informer is a little perfunctory, it is a case of " No way.......oh, alright then." The authenticity and sense of time, fashion, place and dialogue is good, however , presumably because of funding, the locations are in Dublin, not Belfast which robs the spectacle of some of its drama. The "grey" that seemed to pervade the entire city is bafflingly broken by the decision of Collette, working as a spy, to wear a bright red raincoat for her clandestine meetings with Mac. There may have been some symbolic significance in this, but for practical purposes it was risible.
An awkward sub plot involving inter security service rivalry is frustratingly portrayed. Gillian Anderson appears as a senior MI5 Officer for no particular reason other than to sell the film in America for neither she as a character, nor her as an actor, adds anything to proceedings. The internal machinations of the IRA are also under drawn. Gerry, the local commander has to organise operations against the British, funerals, discussions about British Peace proposals, house break-ins , tout hunts, torture and executions in around twenty minutes screen time. A promising and pivotal character suffers as a result.
The denouement to the tale works well in plot terms, and will delight Republicans, leaving the audience guessing as to what had really happened, but is undermined by the lack of characterisation. . Bradby as a journalist is good at the narrative, Marsh as the documentary maker is good at recording it, but as a drama it is good rather than excellent, a criticism more of what it could have been than of what it is not, although I am sure that budget restraints play their part. An IRA funeral confrontation is well set up, but in long shot looks puny and fizzles out. The visceral horror of terrorism is also noticeable by its absence. Eagle eyed viewers will enjoy an on screen news report which features Tom Bradby as the reporter, but with a pseudonym as a tag line. A more experienced director of action and drama, a bigger budget, and a more experienced screenplay writer may yet deliver Bradby the on screen spy thriller success he aims for.
Throughout the years, the IRA and the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland
have been a source of inspiration for countless British and Irish
movies. What can 'Shadow Dancer' add to what we already know about this
conflict? The answer is: nothing, really. This film isn't about the
struggle for freedom, it isn't about catholics and protestants, it
isn't even about right or wrong. It's only about suspense. This isn't a
political movie, it's a thriller.
In fact, this movie could just as easily have been set in the context of the Italian mafia or a Mexican drugs gang. The story about a young female terrorist who, after a failed bombing attempt, becomes an informant for the authorities to escape a prison sentence, is extremely suspenseful. She lives in constant fear of being discovered, which would almost certainly lead to her execution. 'I am dead', she literally tells her contact at one point.
The film starts off with a clever flash-back, a very intense scene that explains her motivation to become a terrorist. The rest of the film is told in chronological order, with the suspense rising gradually, until the unexpected and dramatic climax.
In a subplot, we see that the British secret service is subject to the same sort of internal discussions, infighting and ego-tripping as the IRA. Clive Owen and Gillian Anderson (nice to see her again!) are fine as secret service persons, but the best acting is done by Andrea Riseborouh as the proud and independent terrorist Collette McVeigh.
The film is also excellent in recreating the atmosphere of the catholic working class neighbourhoods in Belfast (actually, it is shot in Dublin), where terrorism in the 1990's was a part of everyday life. Director James Marsh uses faded colours in many scenes to recreate the rundown streets and interiors.
This is a gripping, intelligent psychological thriller with excellent acting and a plot that will have you hooked from start to finish. I was amazed the IMDb-rating is not higher than 6.6.
Based on my experience, the distributors may have committed a terrible
misjudgement for they should have made this a film for TV rather than
the cinema. There were 4 people in total when we went to watch the film
and that was par for the course for the week apparently. The cinema
manager suggested it would be pulled pretty quickly.
Such a shame, because it is a fine film, excellent when the scenes are based in Belfast, with ALL the actors who played the Irish parts absolutely first class. You felt you were in Belfast and the tension took you there. Location scenes good.
Less so the part played by Gillian Anderson. She was OK but a bit wooden. The MI5 scenes generally did not get off the ground until near the end when there was a great twist.
Clive Owen was the biggest enigma of the film. I am still not sure if he was OK, average or weak in the part he played. First impressions were could have been done better definitely, but the low-key interpretation may have had some merit. Owen just seemed to drift through it all and when he got angry it fell flat.
I would recommend anyone to go and watch this well-directed film. It is a good story from the writer which needs all the support it can get based on our experience of row after row of empty seats.
People tend to forget their history even that happened in their lifetime. Tragic truth be told.
This is a great movie from so many angles. At first it has what appears
to be a slow tempo but one that sucks you in and has you "biting your
fingernails" - yup, without realising it, you're hooked.... and
genuinely frightened. Owen and Riseborough are flawless and their
characters are addictive. But they aren't the only excellent
performances that come out - Colette's brothers and lest I forget, her
James Marsh is recognised as a serious talent but one is never certain this movie will go down in the States as much as us Europeans may enjoy it. It should do, because it is not a Northern Ireland film per say - its a great thriller.
I read the book and really enjoyed it - but that was a few years ago. With this film, Marsh shows he "got it" and then took it further and, like any great Director - showed the reader there is so much more to it, without in any way veering off course. That is the difference between good and great, for me anyway. I can't wait for his next film - I want more, "now".
Then, there's the book - maybe I'll go and find it on my shelves and get lost in it again. It still stands out as a great read, even if it was a while ago.
This is director James Marsh's first fiction movie. He has hitherto
been known as a great documentary maker, including last year's
excellent Project Nim. In Shadow Dancer he has put together a film set
during the Troubles period of Northern Ireland's history. In it a girl
with IRA connections is coerced into becoming an informant for MI5.
This leads to several compromising and dangerous situations. While the
movie is set within a clear political situation, it isn't really a
political film. The focus is specifically on the role of the informer
in this powder keg context. At the time there were many people in
similar situations and the movie tries to look at both the dangers that
they found themselves in and the complex moral dilemmas that effected
people on all sides of the conflict, both republicans and British
intelligence. As such, Shadow Dancer is about people, as opposed to
politics and it doesn't really make any subjective comment on rights
and wrongs. It's clear that both sides of the fence act in sordid ways.
The distrust amongst the high command on both sides is shown to be
similar. Civil war is never a simple affair.
It's a well-acted and intelligently written film. It's low-key and pensive rather than a suspenseful thrill-ride. Perhaps it's a little too slow paced and sober for its own good at times but it does gather steam in the final third and things are wrapped up quite effectively by the end with a series of events that fall into place with tragic inevitability.
SHADOW DANCER (definition: a dance presented by casting shadows of
dancers on a screen) is another film about the conflicts of the IRA
during the 1990s. Despite the fact that the theme is a recurring one in
films, the core meaning of the conflict remains a bewildering mystery
to those not living in Ireland or in England, and that is what makes
this film fall short of being excellent - there is much significant
information that is not shared with the audience as though we all
understand fully both sides of the conflict well enough to muddle
through the outlines of the plot that are presented. Tom Brady wrote
screenplay based on his own novel and even director James Marsh can't
seem to iron it out into a comprehensible story.
The film opens in 1973 in Belfast when young Collette (Maria Laird) is asked by her father to run an errand but she is far more interested in making bead necklaces so she sends her younger brother Sean (Ben Smyth) who is killed outside their home. Jump to 1993 and Collette (Andrea Riseborough), mother of a young son, has become a mole ('tout') for the IRA, and is arrested in the London tube after leaving a bomb in the facility. MI5 (definition: Military Intelligence section 5 is a British intelligence agency working to protect the UK's national security against threats such as terrorism and espionage) Agent Mac (Clive Owen) offers a deal to Collette to become an informer. She accepts the agreement to protect her son and in return Mac offers a new identity to her after a period working for the MI5. Soon Mac learns that his superior Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson) is using Collette to protect her mole inside the Irish organization. Mac tries to find the identity of the informer and protect Collette. In the midst of all of this Collette's brothers Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) and Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and their mother (Brid Brennan) become targets for both sides. In the end the true informer is a surprise to everyone and the film documents the impact of terrorism on family and its human cost.
Though there are moments of fine acting, the entire movie seems as though it was shot in a fog: the focus is as blurry as the action. If the audience is completely familiar with the IRA vs. MI5 conflicts, then the film will likely appeal. Otherwise, read up about Irish politics before attempting to understand all the nuances in this film.
"Shadow Dancer" from 2012 stars Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, and
Gillian Anderson. I'm not sure what the situation with this movie was
because it only made $400,000.
The movie takes place in Belfast, and in the first scene, a young girl, Collette, is told by her father to buy him some cigarettes. She doesn't want to go, so instead, she sends her little brother Sean.
The action then shifts to 1993, and we see the adult Collette (Riseborough) deliberately leaving her purse in the London tube; as she escapes from the tube, she is arrested. An MI-5 agent, Mac (Owen) offers her a deal -- no prison time if she will become an informant and at the end of her time working for him, a new identity. Because she has a young son, she agrees.
Mac ultimately learns that his superior (Anderson) is using Collette as a red herring to protect her own mole inside the Irish organization. Mac tries to find out who the mole is and remove Collette from a dangerous situation.
This movie is sparse on dialogue and, frankly, action, particularly at the beginning as we see Collette on what seems to be an endless train ride and finally dropping her purse. After that, things pick up. The cinematography is dreary, with Ireland looking like it's one step up from a trailer park in most scenes.
Andrea Riseborough, who can be beautiful and glamorous, is photographed harshly here, and she's excellent as a young woman caught in the nightmare of having to betray her brothers and answer to their trigger-happy leader Kevin (David Wilmot) and to Mac. She is natural and realistic in underplaying the role of a young Irish girl under incredible tension. Owen is good as the protective Mac, tough and persuasive.
The big problem is the lack of family connection, that is, Collette's relationship with her worried mother and her brothers, who are entrenched in a violent world. Shadow Dancer concentrates on the relationship between Mac and Collette, where showing more within the family would have brought us into the film more deeply.
We're led to believe certain things in "Shadow Dancer," and it's not until the end of the movie that we realize what a good script it was, and how well it is directed by James Marsh.
A sober movie showing the impact of violence and stress on one family.
In 1993, the IRA member Collette (Andrea Riseborough) is arrested in
the London tube after leaving a bomb in the facility. MI-5 Agent Mac
(Clive Owen) offers a deal to Collette to become an informer. She
accepts the agreement to protect her son and in return Mac offers a new
identity to her after a period working for the MI-5. Soon Mac learns
that his superior Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson) is using Collette to
protect her mole inside the Irish organization. Mac tries to find the
identity of the informer and protect Collette.
"Shadow Dancer" is a dramatic thriller developed in slow-pace with a good story and a confused screenplay. The situation of Collette is heartbreaking since she has to betray family and friends to protect her son. The performances are top-notch, but there are ellipsis (or cuts in the edition) that are confusing. For example, I did not understand why Collette kisses Mac. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Agente C Dupla Identidade" ("Agent C Double Identity")
what an extraordinary story told in a narrative style which keeps you
guessing all the way to the final shot. all the performances were
terrific, subtle as the story unfolds. i am a big history buff, so that
aspect of this movie was a real treat for me personally. as i say, the
only thing new is the history we do not know. i would highly recommend
this movie to any thoughtful viewer who wants to be informed and
entertained. it was truly a pleasure to have happened on this while
going through the stacks at my library in the DVD section.
bravo to the actors, author and screenplay writer and a wonderful piece of directing including style and pacing. a job well done, indeed!!!!!!
With films like In The Name of the Father, Michael Collins, and Hunger,
you really have to have a great film about the IRA to get attention.
This film not only succeeds as a film that belongs with the others
mentioned, but it is really an impressive film.
The lighting, scenery, costumes and photography, and background music all contribute to the film in a way that one expects of a great film about Britain in the 90s.
Andrea Riseborough (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley), Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina), David Wilmot (Intermission), and Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa) gave notable performances allowing us to really feel the personal dilemmas and betrayal they experienced.
Good espionage films tend to keep my interest, and this was edge-of-the- seat action.
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