Shadow Dancer (film review) by Frank Ochieng.

The taut political suspense thriller ‘Shadow Dancer’ spins a tale of terrorism that works fabulously on the nerves. Armed with gritty performances by leads Andrea Riseborough (‘Oblivion’, ‘Disconnect’) and Clive Owen, ‘Shadow Dancer’ is skillfully punctuated by intense twists and turns that make up this compelling drama about the hostile climate between the British government and the IRA in the days of yesteryear. Thankfully not too boisterous in its stark presentation, ‘Shadow Dancer’ is smart and resourceful enough to play its conflicting confines as sedate yet edgy with underlying tension and betrayal.

Single mother Collette McVeigh (Riseborough) is a Northern Ireland IRA member whose botched duty in planting a bomb within a London underground train station results in her capture by the British authorities. During her interrogation, an M15 officer named Mac (Owen) strikes a deal with the nervous Collette. Either she serves as an informant and secretly reports on her family’s involvement in Republican terrorist activities or risk the possibilities of serving 25 years in prison and having her young son taken away from her custody. Reluctantly, Collette decides to take Mac’s offer and spy on her loved ones, particularly brothers Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson, ‘About Time’) that hold high-ranking status within the IRA.

Thus, Collette is released from the clutches of Mac and his organisation but not before being given the instructions in how to deliver the tricky information when she returns home to Belfast where she resides with her mother (Brid Brennan), two brothers and her son. It is agreed that Collette must meet with Mac routinely at a scenic beachfront to trade the requested information. In the meanwhile, Mac has to butt heads with his icy superior Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson from TV’s ‘The X-Files’) in convincing her that his collaboration with Collette McVeigh could be quite beneficial in squashing the IRA’s next big move.

The poignancy in Collette’s present-day association (in this case the early 90s) with the IRA may have stemmed from a shocking childhood incident from the early 1970s when her little brother was killed trying to buy a pack of cigarettes during a shootout between British and Irish forces. The guilt behind his death was immense as the younger Collette (Maria Laird) was supposed to be the one to purchase the smokes but ordered her sibling to do so instead. Hence, this may have been the psychological indoctrination of Collette’s commitment into joining up with the IRA’s militaristic cause.

The stakes are high for Collette as she has her life on the line, something that Mac promises will be spared as long as she sticks to the script of what she is mandated to do to ensure her safety. However, Collette’s twitchy behavior has her brothers wondering about their sister’s focus for IRA-related business. It does not help when Collette, recruited to partake in an assassination attempt of a police detective, is part of another failed plot to complete this latest assigned task. Now many within the IRA elite circle, especially security honcho Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot), are questioning the loyalties of the McVeigh clan. Something is just not right and sooner or later somebody has to pay the price for the alleged deception.

As Collette tries to dodge the skepticism facing her, Mac finds out that his boss, Fletcher, and other big brass were conducting another secretive operation on his case and did not consult him. Mac feels misinformed that operation ‘Shadow Dancer’ (codename for Collette McVeigh and her related surveillance practices) was hatched without his knowledge therefore jeopardising his livelihood as well as Collette’s endangered neck.

‘Shadow Dancer’ is based upon Tom Bradby’s 2001 novel by the same name (Bradby serves as the film’s screenwriter as well). Director James Marsh is no stranger to delivering the edge-of-your-seat goods as he has previously proven with his Academy Award-winning 2008 documentary ‘Man On Wire’ when chronicling the French daredevil Phillippe Petit’s death-defying tightrope act between New York’s Twin Towers in the mid 70s. Here, Marsh’s different kind of tension-filled tactics are low-key but nevertheless simmering with controlled chills. Riseborough is fixating as the anxious doe-eyed Collette caught in the middle of political poison trying to cope with the atrocities that affected her saddened past only to shape her controversial present and future. Owen’s Mac is effectively convincing in understated defiance.

Deliciously moody, saucy and griping, ‘Shadow Dancing’ is a suspense piece that handles its atmospheric intrigue with piercing perception.

Shadow Dancer (2013)

Magnolia Pictures

1 hr. 36 mins.

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson, Brid Brennan and Frank Smith

Directed by: James Marsh

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Political Drama

Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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