Sunday 26 August 2012
(James Marsh, 2012) Here is a thriller set in Northern Ireland in the awkward period when the Troubles began the slow journey towards an ending of sorts. 1993, here rendered as just as colourless and drab as 1973, the setting for the first scene, and the IRA leadership are guardedly drifting towards agreeing to abide by a peace agreement. Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a single mother and Republican sister to two brothers who are members of the IRA, Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Conor (Domhnall Gleeson). Her mission to plant a bomb on the London Underground foiled early on, Colette is half-threatened, half-sweettalked by British Agent Mac (Clive Owen) into becoming a secret informant for the British. Only her safety is threatened by the suspicions of Brendan (Martin McCann) and the agendas and games of Mac's superiors, most notably Kate (Gillian Anderson). Marsh's film is slow-burning, relatively subtle, sombre, intelligent and utterly humourless. It is perhaps a little too minor-key and tasteful for it's own good, rarely succumbing to the temptation to try try to thrill the audience, instead remaining a bit arty, a bit classy. There are a couple of suspense sequences where Colette may be discovered, but even these are quiet and clear-eyed, lacking the intoxicating charge which is mandatory in the very best, most lurid thrillers. The notable exception is the second scene, introducing Colette in a long wordless scene on the Tube, evoking a keen, visceral sense of paranoia and the physical feel of those trains and tunnels. Marsh is a fine storyteller, never more so than in this scene; there is no dialogue for ten minutes yet it is abundantly clear exactly what is happening. The cast are generally fine, though almost nobody has a convincingly developed character to play. Even Riseborough's Colette is something of an enigma, spending much of the film brooding while staring out windows. Marsh keeps it grim, often finding the beauty in unlikely scenes - a body discovered beneath an electricity pylon in grass made golden by the sun, for instance. Dublin stands in for Belfast - a massive distraction to this particular Dubliner - and Marsh conjures up some interestingly composed frames of the grey landscape, either bisected by tower blocks or studded with identical little houses, while also modulating the tone here beautifully. Almost too beautifully; Shadow Dancer rarely rises above a hushed whisper, and as a result its thrills and pleasures are modest.