DVD: Shadow Dancer | Film reviews, news & interviews
DVD: Shadow Dancer
Bleak vision of IRA conflict almost too cool for comfort
The director James Marsh has made his name as a documentarian who brilliantly blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. Both Man on Wire and Project Nim seamlessly wove together archive and reconstruction. Although Shadow Dancer, an IRA thriller set in the early Nineties, is in many ways very stylised, it is not as needlessly overwrought as Marsh’s TV drama Red Riding, but nevertheless characterised by a cool absence of cliff-hanging narrative tension that is typical of documentary.
With a script by former ITN newsman Tom Bradby, Marsh tells the grim story of Colette (Andrea Riseborough) an Irish Catholic who is drawn into working as an informer after being involved in a bodged terrorist attack in London. Her British handler Mac (Clive Owen) plays deftly with her vulnerabilities, but is soft enough himself to feel conflicted over the extent of his manipulations. Their ambiguous relationship, shot through with repressed sexuality, is played out in a context of deceit, mistrust and betrayal – on both sides of the divide: the cold ruthlessness of the British and the IRA is well portrayed by a strong group of actors including Gillian Anderson as Mac’s boss, and David Wilmot as the local Republican leader.
This is a strangely British and under-stated vision of bleakness and hell
The atmosphere of a community sucked dry of hope by decades of strife and violence is evoked with a minimalism that serves the subject well but doesn’t make for easy viewing: misty and back-lit interiors, drab housing estates, and a tonal range that barely departs from the monochrome, except for Colette’s slightly over-symbolic red mac and the occasional sight of blood. This is a strangely British and under-stated vision of bleakness and hell.
In spite of the passion that lies at the root of the conflict, the film displays an unsettling and somewhat alienating lack of emotion, as if the feelings of all concerned had been cauterised by guilt and grief. How much this is directorial choice – a vision of anomie – or just central performances without depth and definition from Riseborough and Owen is difficult to tell. Shadow Dancer sits somewhat uneasily between Paul Greengrass’s action movie fireworks and the powerful understatement of Steve McQueen’s Hunger and it is a good film which leaves one curiously unmoved.
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