MIFF: Shadow Dancer

Sadly, a waste of a solid cast and director...

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Shadow Dancer opens with a scene so hackneyed that the IRA drama never recovers. Setting up IRA informer Colette’s (Andrea Riseborough) later guilt, the sequence – set during her childhood – introduces some ridiculous Irish clichés, including rosary beads, lousy fathers and Irish guilt. Shadow Dancer has good pedigree: a strong director, a solid cast and excellent talent behind these scenes. Attempting to paint The Troubles as a hokey family melodrama, however, the cliché-ridden script – courtesy of source novelist Tom Bradby – does these talents little favours, offering Irish clichés in place of compelling, well-drawn personalities. 

After she is arrested in London, Colette acts as a spy for an MI5 officer (Clive Owen) against her brothers Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson). As family friend Kevin (David Wilmot) becomes suspicious of her movements, Colette must decide whether or not to betray her brothers for the sake of her son’s welfare. 

Unlike director JamesMarsh’s previous work, this is neither a nuanced psychological portrait (like The King or Man on Wire) nor a compelling narrative (like Red Riding: 1980), attempting to balance thriller mechanics with thematic richness. Unfortunately, Bradby does not know how to write such a film, as the ITV reporter/editor throws in endless stares into the middle distance to compensate for the lack of character development (who knows? Maybe he thinks that is character development). He’s an inadequate storyteller, too, throwing in scenes that give interesting detail into early ‘90s Belfast, but that do not advance the plot. 

The acting is decent, better than the silly material deserves. Riseborough is a mellifluous presence, providing a subtly emotive reading of Colette’s subtext. Clive Owen – stuck in a silly subplot – gives nuance and texture to a thinly sketched cipher. Other actors (especially Gillen) are wasted, though, supplied with shallow characters that twist from one cliché into another.  

Neither story nor character-driven, Shadow Dancer suffers from personality issue

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