Shadow Dancer: Terrorism, Betrayal, and Sacrifice

Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough
Magnolia Pictures

Any job that requires meetings involving a scary silent gunman laying plastic tarp on the ground to catch post-execution bloodletting is, by nature, stressful. For Colette (Andrea Riseborough), those anxious circumstances are the byproduct of being forced to work as a reluctant mole inside her close-knit IRA gang for MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) in 1993 Belfast, a scenario that's handled with suspenseful precision by director James Marsh in Shadow Dancer. Working from Tom Bradby's screenplay (based on his book), the former documentarian (Man on Wire, Project Nim) gives his material edgy life via his economy of style, with his framing exhibiting an unfussy, astute attention to spatial power dynamics — even in a seemingly simple shot-countershot sequence of advancing/retreating closeups — that reveal him to be an assured classicist. Populated by a host of strong if somewhat underused supporting players (Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson), the film rests on the desperate chemistry of a paunchy, weathered Owen and a tense, quietly ferocious Riseborough. Their relationship, marked by equal measures of need, desperation, and exploitation, ultimately comes to a head during a walloping finale in which terrorism is carried out in the name of politics, and betrayal — along with sacrifice — is performed in service of family.

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