Sundance Journal: ‘Shadow Dancer’

Those of you who enjoyed ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ will mostly likely love James Marsh’s ‘Shadow Dancer’, a Le Carre-esque portrayal of a family embroiled in the IRA and the lengths to which a mother will go to save her son from violence.

‘Shadow Dancer’ is a slow-moving, methodical thriller. The Cold War syndrome is in full effect here. Tension builds, but it’s silent. There isn’t a lot of action, but like Tomas Alfredson did in ‘Tinker’, Marsh does with ‘Shadow Dancer’. We don’t need action or gunfights to know that the stakes are high. That’s an inherent understanding when you’re dealing with a group as paranoid as the IRA.

Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) has grown up in a family that has been entrenched in the IRA for decades. She even goes on jobs with her brothers, but her heart isn’t in it. She does it because it’s expected of her. She’s afraid for her son’s safety if she doesn’t carry out the terrorist tasks put before her.

That is until Mac (Clive Owen) gives her an ultimatum after she’s been caught trying to pull off a bombing: Spy on her brothers or go to jail for a long time. Thinking of her son, Colette reluctantly takes the offer.

The movie does a great job of depicting just how suspicious and on-edge the members of the IRA are. Every one of them thinks that someone is squealing to the authorities about their plans. They deal with snitches in a swift fashion.

The tension surrounding Colette and her mission is constantly high. This really is a very suspenseful film – that is, if you thought ‘Tinker’ was suspenseful, which I did.

There’s something to be said for a director and a movie that can build suspense with minimal action, much like ‘Drive’. It’s all about the atmosphere and the knowledge of how mistrusting the IRA is as an organization.

The movie builds and builds until a very satisfying and unexpected ending that I didn’t see coming at all. It’s one of those twist endings that not only plays perfectly, but catches you totally by surprise.

I really liked ‘Shadow Dancer’, but you’ve been warned. If you didn’t like ‘Tinker Tailor’ (ahem, Luke), you may not enjoy this one either.

Rating: ★★★★☆

1 comment

  1. Pingback: ‘Shadow Dancer’ reviews from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival « Just Gillian Anderson.

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