Monday, October 22, 2012


There is a kiss at the centre of Shadow Dancer and it is unlike any you have ever seen. It is impulsive and passionately physical but it is not sexual, not amorous. This is not through any lack of connection between the kissers, they are, by this moment, essential to each other. These characters are not in love; they are connecting this way because they are still alive. To find another screen kiss like it you might have to go to a film set in a concentration camp.

The setting here is the freezing, grazed knuckles world of Belfast during the troubles. The war on the ground is such that the suspicion of betrayal is enough to get you waterboarded, dumdum bulleted or blown up. The film has a prelude which sets the character of Collette for life: as a child she leans on her younger brother to go and do an errand she doesn't want to do and sees him shot by the IRA outside their house. Cut to 1993 we see the grown up Collette nervously convey a handbag so large and ugly that it must be a bomb on a train and then leave it at a tube station.

Bomb doesn't go off but the Brits do, catching her effortlessly and forcing her into the hard place by the rock (Irish girl, English gaol). All she needs to do is betray her brothers and everything will be alllllllright. It's Norn Irn, the very breath of the idea could get her splattered in bloody bits on the nearest steel grey backstreet. She has a young son. Damned if do or don't she does.

 Her subsequent days are spent fending off the suspicions of the local terror leader, taking part in IRA hits and feeling the squeeze of her impossible predicament. Now and then she meets up with Clive Owen's hunky chunky MI5 agent and reports what she finds out. In the meantime he, sick of the attitudes of his superiors and colleagues to these compromised and threatened operatives, tries to find out all he can about Collette's case and discovers something he didn't expect. Although he's in charge of her case he has been denied access to her file. He's about to find out something very troubling which leads to a pair of twists that will make your heart sink.

I say twists but this film does not play for narrative grip as much as a constant amping up of the tension of the beginning. This is not made any easier by the cheerless near monochrome (but not obviously desaturated) streets, homes and pubs of the town.

No ease either from Andrea Riseborough's intense performance. Her strange beauty, like a marzipan-face aristocrat from an eighteenth century portrait, is almost constantly marred  with concern which expresses itself in a stress furrow 'twixt the eyebrows which is almost always present. Apart from moments spent enjoying the sight of her young son's life her Collette is seemingly bound for early mortality or galloping premature aging.

Mac, Clive Owen, is similarly bound, knowing of the certain visceral mess to come but powerless to stop it. At the point of the kiss I began with he is devastated by the circumstances but compelled to play them out. That's why there is no eroticism in the act. That's why it is so simultaneously rivetting and uncomfortable. That's why this is a corker of a film.

There is also a kind of setpiece halfway through involving a street funeral. The British army are out in force to prevent the deceased from being publicly celebrated as a soldier (as opposed to a criminal). At one point a pair of pistols is passed stealthily through the crowd to a pair of men who don balaclavas and fire into the air in salute. As I watched this it occured to me that Stephen Spielberg would have fetishised this moment, luxuriating in the images of the cold steel being passed along lines of funereal clothes, perhaps slowing it down and throwing in some metallic clanks in case you did get the guns were steel. Here it is shown unadorned, grim, defiant and curiously moving and the hatred in it confronting. That's why this is a good film.

Still in cinemas at time o' writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment