James Marsh’s substantial skills as a filmmaker grow with each film, and he slips readily from a documentary masterpiece like “Man On Wire” or the fine “Project Nim” to fiction, like “Red Riding: 1980” and the sleek conspiracy thriller, “Shadow Dancer,” his 2012 movie only recently plucked from a wayward U. S. distribution deal. Written by former ITN television Ireland Correspondent Tom Bradby, from his 1998 novel, the 1970s-set “Shadow Dancer” traces the movements of one Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother in Belfast who’s captured by MI5 after a failed IRA bomb plot in London. Clive Owen plays Mac, the officer tasked with turning her and getting the names of her co-conspirators. Riseborough (striking in stinkers like “W. E.” and “Brighton Rock”; gleaming and precise in the recent “Oblivion”) commands the screen, deftly registering many levels of Collette’s inner turbulence. Suspicions course and paranoia bristles: the plot’s succession of betrayals shift with tectonic suddenness, urged along by Marsh’s elemental yet elegant widescreen compositions. Marsh places the camera with offhand alacrity: it’s always right, especially in a taut opening section that slowly reveals the story’s stakes. And the eye-pleasing production design manages to be suggestive of the period without ever becoming assertive or showy. Alan J. Pakula would’ve liked what Marsh has accomplished here: a subdued suspense story that knows where a good detonation belongs. Cinematographer Rob Hardy (“Boy A,” “The Forgiveness of Blood”) makes a fine visual accomplice. With Bríd Brennan, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gillian Anderson as Mac’s calculating superior at MI5. 104m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Shadow Dancer” opens Friday at Landmark Century. The trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.