out of Five
Running time: 101
Beautifully shot, quietly gripping thriller with a strong script, impressive production design and a terrific central performance from Andrew Riseborough.
What's it all about?
Directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim), Shadow Dancer is based on the 2001 novel by Tom Bradby (who wrote the screenplay) and is set in pre-peace-process Belfast. When IRA operative Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is picked up by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) following a failed bomb attack on the London underground, she is offered a deal she can't refuse: accept a lengthy prison sentence and be separated from her young son (Cathal Maguire) or return home to Belfast and spy on her mother (Brid Brennan) and her two terrorist brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson).
With no choice but to accept the deal, Colette duly turns informant, but things quickly get complicated when she discovers that IRA leader Kevin (David Wilmot) already suspects there is a spy in their midst and is taking measures to find out who it is. Meanwhile, Mac begins to suspect that his boss (Gillian Anderson) isn't telling him the whole story.
Andrea Riseborough delivers a terrific performance as Colette, dramatising her powerful inner conflict through her haunted expression and never over-playing it; it's almost as if she tries to be invisible in each scene, afraid of drawing attention to herself and thereby becoming an object of suspicion. Clive Owen is equally good as career spy Mac (we never see his home life) and he has strong chemistry with Riseborough, while there's also superb support from Gillian Anderson (whose faux-jokey relationship with Mac provides the film's only notes of humour), Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson.
Like last year's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Shadow Dancer is a thriller that is as much about mood, setting, atmosphere and character as it is about plot. To that end, Marsh's direction is assured throughout, maintaining a powerfully suspenseful atmosphere (there are lots of close-ups on Riseborough's face) and keeping things ticking along at just the right speed.
On top of that, the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Rob Hardy, who makes strong use of some authentic Belfast locations, while the production design work is extremely impressive, particularly in the stunning 1970s opening sequence.
Impressively directed and beautifully shot, this is a gripping and ultimately moving, slow-burning thriller with an intelligent script and a terrific performance from Andrea Riseborough. Recommended.