say peace finally came to Northern Ireland when both sides lost their appetite
for killing. Collette McVeigh’s family
has not reached that point yet. This
makes her a potentially valuable source of information in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Collette was supposed to buy her father a pack of cigarettes, but she sent her
brother instead. The bullet that cut
short his life would send her down the path of violent terrorism. Even with a child to raise McVeigh stays
active in the cause. However, her latest
mission is an unqualified disaster. Her
bomb fails to detonate, which is somewhat fortunate since she is also pinched
by MI-5. Her interrogator, Mac, has a
rather awkward talk prepared for her. That
bullet that killed her brother? Not
British. More to the point, if she ever
wants to see her son again, McVeigh must start informing on her high ranking
of sort of agreeing, McVeigh stalls for time, but Mac forces her to
commit. Soon McVeigh navigates the
perils of a double life, but her handler looks out for her interests as best he
can. Mac is old school. He believes in protecting assets, so he is
troubled by the actions of his superior, Kate Fletcher, who seems rather
callously disinterested in McVeigh’s safety.
Shadow is bit of a
slow starter, but it is a strong closer.
Largely (but not completely) de-politicized by Marsh, the film speaks
more directly to the mindset of Eric Hoffer’s “true believer” rather than the
particularly grievances of the Troubles.
Neither side exclusively represents the heroes or the villains. Some individuals are simply more reasonable
than others. For instance, McVeigh’s
brothers illustrate fanaticism at its worst, while Fletcher personifies Machiavellianism
at its most cold blooded.
is a world class filmmaker, who seems to have a knack for gritty noir material,
such as the middle (and best) film of the Red Riding trilogy. In his hands, Shadow Dancer is as much a classical
tragedy as it is a thriller. McVeigh and
Mac are both pawns trying to assert themselves in a fatally deterministic
world. In fact, the film’s pessimism is
what really lingers with viewers.
Clearly, the terrorist mindset will always opt for blood over an
honorable peace. American audiences will
also wonder if the aptness of McVeigh’s name was coincidental or intentional.
Owen is fantastic as Mac, balancing his ruthlessness and humanity on a razor’s
edge. Likewise, Andrea Riseborough’s
McVeigh looks like a stress fracture about to happen. Red is definitely her color, but it is still
a bit hard to see her as a potential temptress, which makes the evolution of
her relationship with her handler somewhat problematic. While she is not exactly a multidimensional
character, as Fletcher, Gillian Anderson also gives an ice queen performance
worthy of Kristin Scott Thomas.
Marsh meticulously sets the scene and methodically
escalates the tension. Adapting his own
novel, screenwriter Tom Bradby fully establishes the sad internal logic of the
late Troubles era. Admirably free of
sentimentality, Shadow Dancer mostly
plays it straight (while not entirely reining-in a lingering bias against MI-5
and the police charged with maintaining public safety). Worth seeing as a result, it opens this
Friday (5/31) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, James Marsh