Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a single mother living in Belfast with her son, mother (Brid Brennan), and hardcore IRA brothers. She accepts the mission to plant a bomb in the subway as a Republican attack on the British rulers. Things go terribly wrong when she panics, drops the bomb and runs. She is soon picked up by the police and MI5 agent, Mac (Clive Owen), offers her a choice: become an informer or go to jail for a long, long time and lose her son in “Shadow Dancer.”
The film starts off innocently enough as a little boy heads to the store to buy some sweets for his older sister. But, it is 1993 and this is Belfast and IRA sentiments run high. A shootout on the street with the occupying British forces ends in tragedy with the boy a victim of the violence. What transpires after is a story about loyalty and love of family amid the danger of revolution.
Collette loves her family, especially her son Mark (Cathal Maguire) and her mum. Her brothers Gerry (Aiden Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) are staunch IRA “soldiers” with Gerry the head of the local Republican unit. Collette is recruited to perform a terror act but she botches her assignment to plant a bomb. She is soon arrested and put incommunicado by British MI5 and into the hands of Mac. She is reluctant to cooperate, at first, but her love for her son is the gating factor. She finally agrees to turn her coat.
What follows is a combination of terrorist thriller and love story as Collette and Mac grow close, perhaps too close, to each other. The film is a showcase for Andrea Riseborough, a young actress who deserves a chance for stardom. She was the best thing in this year’s otherwise mediocre “Oblivion” and she holds the screen in “Shadow Dancer” as the troubled and conflicted Collette. The rest of the cast, including Clive Owen, revolve around Collette but are fully realized characters.
James Marsh is best known as a documentary filmmaker with such fascinating works as “Project Nim” and “Man on Wire.” In “Shadow Dancer” he turns to fiction with the novel and screenplay by Tom Bradby. He shows a deft hand with his actors and elicits a notable performance from Riseborough. The production is straightforward on all fronts and catches the bleakness hovering above Belfast under siege. I give it a B-.
When she was a young girl, Collette McVeigh's (Andrea Riseborough, "W.E.," "Oblivion") dad gave her money to buy him cigarettes, but she sent her little brother to get them instead. Minutes later, his body was returned, the victim of Belfast gunfire. Now years later, she's a single mom of a young boy herself who is caught up in the IRA plots of her deeply committed brothers. When she's picked up by MI5 after leaving a bomb in the London subway, Collette is forced to provide information or be separated from her son and so begins an intricate and harrowing journey that turns her into a "Shadow Dancer."
Director James Marsh ("Man on Wire," "Project Nim") Was given Tom Bradby's novel (the author adapted the screenplay) and had ideas of turning it into a thriller based on Collette's viewpoint and his instincts have paid off in a quietly disturbing look at the choices placed before someone who is caught between two worlds, neither offering harbor. Marsh, who is making his feature debut, is a master of subtlety here, offering hints at the motivations of the McVeigh family, including Collette's mother (Brid Brennan, "Dancing at Lughnasa"), with whom she lives and who recognizes the pressure on her daughter. Marsh doesn't withhold much, just enough to surprise us, no matter how much we've managed to piece together ourselves.
At first, Collette is stonefaced in front of Mac (Clive Owen, "Children of Men"), the MI5 operative on her case (we do learn that she never set the device to go off, MI5 exacerbating a situation already direly conflicted). She finally agrees to meet, then doesn't show, and is picked up for some tough interrogation as a result. When her brother Connor (Domhnall Gleeson, "Harry Potter's" Bill Weasley, "Dredd") mentions an upcoming hit on the officer who killed one of theirs, Collette seizes the opportunity to give MI5 just enough to get her off the hook. But her two quick releases from the law have caught the attention of Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot, 2012's "Anna Karenina"), the local IRA kingpin, and the walls begin to close in on Collette.
What's surprising is that Mac is in somewhat of a parallel predicament. When he's shut out of a meeting held by boss Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson, "Sister"), Mac realizes there's another agenda at play, one which might cost his informant her life. In the film's most suspenseful set piece, Collette's made a part of the very hit she's informed on and cannot be sure the gunman heard her desperate call to Mac. Mac decides he's got to get her out on his own.
Marsh keeps the drama intimate, but he also keeps it a little too cool at the expense of thriller aspects. The way Bradby ties everything together should be a real gut punch, but Marsh pulls it, focusing instead on the psychology of his characters. Riseborough is fantastic here. You can see her mind calculating survival risk as she outwardly registers distress while Owen wears his agenda outwardly, a beautiful and reversed balance. Domhnall Gleeson is proving himself a character actor of note, having left the Potter series to play the terrified tech of "Dredd" and now this, the 'good' brother to Aidan Gillen's (HBO's 'Game of Thrones') more single-minded one.
Cinematographer Rob Hardy ("Boy A") gives the film a misty, muted quality which is again more in keeping with the characters than the action. "Shadow Dancer" is a thought provoking piece on people caught in the middle of a conflict and how impossible it is to maintain allegiance, even partially, to both. However, while Marsh succeeds getting us inside his characters' heads, he's sacrificed somewhat in getting our pulses pounding.
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10 | Video
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