It's not the kind of thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, gripping your fingers together and feeling panic rising to the point of the a big emotional release. This is a slower kind of thriller, the kind that comes out of more real life than of carefully scripted, multi-threaded, high-paced film thrillers.
Not that there's anything bad with those, it's just that these slower more character based thrillers are more synonymous with European cinema, probably more so with Britain since the release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. So how did Shadow Dancer do?
She's not gone unnoticed and the British intelligence services pull her in to interrogate her, playing to her motherly side they turn her into an informant, working within the IRA and trying to bring down the leader of the cell while trying not to let anyone else get killed. As the story progresses so does the suspicion of her IRA friends, the pressure on her from the British intelligence, and the concerns for her family.
Shadow Dancer is a strong thriller and you can tell that this comes from the adaptation and the source novel. James Marsh directs the film and his name should be familiar as he has some strong films to his name including Man on Wire and Project Nim. Now you might be wondering if a man who has delivered these two such strong documentaries can turn his hand to directing a thriller and to answer that I'd point you to the excellent Red Riding trilogy of films for he directed Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980, and that should tell you everything you need to know. With a strong director, a strong novel which the author has adapted to the screenplay, there's a great thriller to be had.
Along with the talent behind the camera there's plenty in front. Andrea Riseborough takes the leading role with Clive Owen, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson, Brid Brennan and David Wilmot rounding up the main roles all of whom provide strong performances to compliment the screenplay.
Riseborough is the star, giving a natural and totally convincing performance that draws you right in and makes you believe and feel the pressures she's under. Owen and Gillen back her superbly each giving an equally strong performance as do Brennan and Wilmot. Gillen is a great actor who always carries a sense of danger and so suits his role as the IRA cell leader well, but sometimes I do find it hard to accept Owen in a role and shake of the fact that he's acting. Here that isn't the case and he plays the intelligence officer rather low key and, dare I say it again, real.
The film builds a believable story about the IRA and the British intelligence services which doesn't feel overly dramatised or manipulated, it feels very genuine and with all good thrillers it keeps the focus on the characters and the situations with their motivations and emotions coming from those around them and not feeling pushed or pulled from some outside source, such as a convoluted script and a hammered keyboard.
The story doesn't hit expected clichés or deliver the characters in polarised black and white, and more importantly in such a close historical setting does it paint an us versus them story with moralistic bricks flying back and forth. Not at all, Shadow Dancer leaps into the people and their situations following them side by side from their viewpoint without huge explanations or moral judgements. Even the motivation for our lead is not overly examined with references or flashbacks throughout to keep it at the fore, and with the intelligence officer we see that there are shades of grey through his department and the service as a whole. Even while he's trying to do the right thing he's also bending the rules and using others and we see that within his motivations and decisions there are as many shades as there are in the whole story.
The story delivers a smouldering tension that builds slowly and never overplays itself. There are some good twists and turns, a few that you just don't expect and deliver a surprise or two however there are others that you do see coming and what feels particularly good about the film is that they don't spoil your enjoyment of watching. It isn't so much a letdown it's just that what you feared would happen happens and throughout you stay with the story and the characters.
The film does a good job at recreating the time and settings of the film, another potential slipping point for the film, however it doesn't get caught up in the kitsch of the time and the sets, locations, costumes and props all set the scene well rather than distract from the story making you notice them and get lost in some nostalgia.
I did feel transported to the location and the time, and with the clever use of locations and the stylistic choices of the film it has a great visual feel to it that adds to the authentic feel, and all done without huge sets, props and extras.
Shadow Dancer is a well written thriller that carries the same sort of pace as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy although with a much easier plot to understand. What it also has over that film is a strong basis in reality and captures the time and the situations, at times feeling like it could really be telling a story based on real events. It never gets over dramatic either and keeps the story itself close and personal, not straying into the politics and the morals of actions but looking right at the characters and their choices.
The performances are good although not surprising considering the cast that is involved in the film and they all deliver strong and convincing performances naturally matching the story around them.
Although the thriller could be stronger and pack a bigger punch at key moments it is still very well written and builds a great level of tension throughout that keeps on rising giving some interesting ending reveals that you may not see coming. I'd recommend seeing Shadow Dancer if you are a fan of thrillers or of Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough.
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