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Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer

Released 24 August 2012
Director James Marsh

Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owens, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmott, Gillian Anderson
Writer(s) Tom Bradby

Chris Coen, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe
Origin United Kingdom, Ireland
Running Time 101 minutes
Genre Drama, thriller
Rating 15A

People over politics.

Acclaimed documentarist James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim) takes a brief jaunt out of his comfort zone for feature film, Shadow Dancer. Set in 1990s Belfast, active IRA member Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) wants out in order to ensure a better life for her son. However, in order to do so she is coerced into becoming an informant for British Intelligence.

Reeling with guilt over the murder of her brother as a child, Colette becomes an IRA sympathiser and a pawn to her high ranking brothers, Gerry (Aidan Gillen on form) and Conor (Domhnall Gleeson). When required to carry out a train bombing, she gets cold feet and aborts the mission before being duly arrested by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) and given two options; lose her son (and serve a lengthy stretch in prison) or betray her family and her loyalty to the cause. She chooses the latter and heads home to begin espionage duties, but when volatile IRA enforcer Kevin (a wonderfully cold and callous David Wilmot) smells a rat and Mac faces pressure from superiors prepared to compromise Colette at any given moment things begin to spiral out of control.

While Shadow Dancer (the title deriving from Colette’s MI5 codename) is every inch an expertly crafted and sublimely paced thriller, it differs from its counterparts in that it avoids action packed thrill sequences but rather exudes intensity from the intelligent layering of tension which is maintained throughout, most of which derives from Wilmot’s on-screen monster Kevin. He is an all-knowing force of evil; always one step ahead of Colette and yet forever lacking the necessary evidence to pull the trigger on her. In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, an unnamed accomplice prepares the murder weapon and lays plastic sheeting on the floor while Kevin shakes Colette down in the next room, waiting for that fatal slip up.

Remarkably low key and pensive, the film’s lean but economical story is told objectively without showing favour to those on either side of the spectrum. In the same vein as Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, it examines the threats facing people on each side and the complex moral dilemmas that affect them as conscience comes into play. Marsh always refrains from making sweeping essentialist statements on the nature of right or wrong. Both parties act in sordid ways and the higher you go up the chain of command (whether IRA or MI5) the more morally squalid it becomes. Like the charge he has sworn to protect, Mac soon realises that he has little hope in changing the inner workings of the system he himself is trapped in.

Clive Owen does an excellent job of portraying a man at odds with his conscience while Andrea Riseborough masterfully lets her body language do most of the work; a fearful glance here and a frail shrug there. Only a late hint at romance feels stilted in an otherwise perfectly executed exercise in tension.

- Cathal Prendergast