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.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore
Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond
Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment
Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure
The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck
Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital
Submarine star Craig Roberts' coming-of-age debut feature is flawed but bracingly inventive
Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan star in an insightful biopic of James Dean
theartsdesk casts ahead to an LFF programme bursting with possibilities
Nanni Moretti gets painfully personal with this impeccably judged family drama
Immaculate restoration of 1967 Slovak film, complete with remarkable score
Antonioni's 1962 classic of alienation loses none of its power