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Rated 3.01 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
No Dancing, Lots of Shadows
by Betty Jo Tucker

Shadow Dancer is not about dancing, but shadowy goings on form a tense background for this dramatic thriller. Drawn into violent IRA activities against the British in the 1990s, a young mother is taken into custody by an MI5 agent and reluctantly agrees to spy on her family and friends in order to protect her son. Although Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen bring these two main characters to life on screen with riveting believability, the movie lacks enough plot detail to make the story come together in a meaningful way. Also, the film’s devastating opening sequence gets our hopes up, then leads to one of the most unsatisfying endings since No Country for Old Men.    

Collette (Riseborough) is a very unhappy young lady, even before being “brought in for questioning” after placing a bomb in a train terminal stairwell. Her brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson) have involved her in these situations, and their mom (Brid Brennan) takes care of Collette’s son when she leaves home on secret assignments. When Agent Mac (Owen) recruits Collette for the British, she knows the extra dangers facing her at home in Belfast -- and Riseborough (Oblivion) makes us feel Collette’s fear and sorrow. She speaks few words, but we can see everything in her face and body language. This is an actress with tremendous star potential!

In the role of Mac, Collette’s handler, Owen (The International) exudes worry and concern. He wants important information from Collette -- but not at the cost of her life or the loss of her son. Will his supervisor (Gillian Anderson, practically unrecognizable here) be as concerned, or does she have another agenda that’s more important to her?  

My major problem with Shadow Dancer? So many situations and plot points seem too sketchy. The movie is based on Tom Bradby’s novel, which I haven’t read. However, I suspect everything is probably spelled out more clearly in the book. Still, Bradby also wrote the screenplay adaptation, so go figure. Maybe director James Marsh (Man on Wire) wanted to emphasize the “tension” quotient instead of the story elements and decided to include long camera shots of Collette thinking and suffering instead of finishing out scenes like the funeral confrontation between the IRA and British soldiers during the first part of the movie. 

Fortunately, Shadow Dancer is not a total waste of time, for the main characters manage to intrigue us -- thanks to excellent portrayals by Riseborough and Owen.  

(Released by ATO Pictures and rated “R” for language and some violent content.)

For more information about Shadow Dancer, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.

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