Shadow Dancer is a meticulously crafted, subtle thriller that demonstrates James Marsh as a truly talented director. He made the great Man on Wire, what I see as one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and here he executes long takes, distanced approaches, and smart framing to make for a beautifully directed feature. Where the film falters is in its lack of enough compelling material; it’s too subtle for its own good, often times feeling a bit empty because we’re not given enough emotional context for these characters. 

The film centers on Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a woman who works for the IRA in the 1990s as a terrorist. Upon a failed attempt on a subway on London, she’s taken in and threatened with 25 years in prison and being separated from her son. The man who asks for her help, Mac (Clive Owen), works for MI-5 and wants her to turn against her family in hopes of pinning a terrorist. Riseborough is outstanding in the lead role, emerging as one of the best actresses of 2013. Her work earlier this year in Disconnect and Oblivion showcased her talents, but here she’s given the lead and truly captures the emotionally raw elements of her Colette; there’s beauty in her devastation.

And Owen encapsulates the film’s only true problem: outside of its lead character, this is a film about ideas and politics rather than characters. Rob Hardy, the cinematographer, has crafted a superbly beautiful, detailed film, yet the contents remain my complaint. It’s a film I could watch over and over again for the sake of looking at it, but emotionally it’s empty and the film’s closing moments should’ve surprised me far more than they did. The violence demonstrated in this film is distanced and cold, an approach I admire; the rest of the film is handled in the same way, though, taking away the impact. It remains a good film, but with stronger execution it could’ve been a great one.

Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)

Note: there is no video review for this film. Some independent films I cover throughout the year will only get my takes on here.

Written by Eric Forthun