I have always been a fan of small British films, especially if they happen to be quiet intelligent spy thrillers. In general, such films are almost all superior to most of what comes out of Hollywood. Unfortunately, such films almost never get shown in Winnipeg theatres and almost never get taken seriously. Shadow Dancer is no exception, which is a pity, because it is one of the best films to come out of 2013 (in the UK, it was released in 2012).
This spy thriller is set in Belfast in the early 1990’s and involves the terrorist activities of the IRA. Clive Owen stars as Mac, an MI5 agent who is put in charge of Collette (played by Andrea Riseborough), an informant whom he talks into becoming an informant after she bungles a London bomb attack. Mac soon realizes that his boss (played by Gillian Anderson) hasn’t given him the big picture and that Collette is in grave danger, but does he have time to save her?
James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer is a suspenseful, slow-moving heart-wrenching film. It begins with a feeling of dread that never lets up. Uniquely, it doesn’t take sides, providing a carefully nuanced character study, though I would have wished for more character development (especially Mac) in such a slow film (you can’t have everything). Owen, Riseborough and Anderson all give excellent understated performances. The screenplay by Tom Bradby, based on his novel, is clever and tight and Shadow Dancer is beautifully filmed. Best of all, Shadow Dancer is never predictable and, unlike certain popular British spy films I shall not name (JB), feels entirely authentic, even if it isn’t based on true events. Maybe that’s because Marsh is best known as a documentary filmmaker.
This brilliant little film might have made my top twelve had I seen it sooner. It gets a very solid ***+. My mug is up.