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Review – Shadow Dancer (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • James Marsh – Man on Wire, Project Nim

Cast:

  • Andrea Riseborough – Brighton Rock, W.E.Birdman
  • Clive Owen – Derailed, Inside Man, Blood Ties
  • Gillian Anderson – The X-Files, Johnny English Reborn, Mr Morgan’s Last Love
  • Aiden Gillen – Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, Calvary
  • David Wilmot – Intermission, The Guard, Calvary
  • Dohmnall Gleeson – Never Let Me Go, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii)Ex Machina
  • Brid Brennan

Last year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) was a wonderful example of the capabilities of the British Film Institute (BFI). The acting, the dialogue and the settings were noteworthy, plus it gave audiences a true sense of the machinations of the British secret services. Similarly, in Shadow Dancer, the BFI has come up again with another quite impressive film about the murky world of intelligence and underground movements.

Collette (Andrea Riseborough) waiting somewhat apprehensively to speak with Kevin Mulville, one of the most senior activists in the IRA’s ‘military wing.’

Shadow Dancer is based in Belfast between 1993-94, at the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and revolves round Collette (Andrea Riseborough). She is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist, who gets arrested for attempting to blow up Mile End underground station in London.

Her interrogator from MI5, Mac (Clive Owen), gives her a stark choice: either face prison and the loss of her son, or become an informant. Mac believes she is a useful person since she has close ties to the most important people in the IRA’s ‘military wing,’ in particular with its leader, Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), and his henchman, Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot). Reluctantly, Collette agrees.

Shadow Dancer is a slow-moving, tense thriller. In the same vein as TTSS and Harry Brown, the settings are gritty, non-theatrical and reflective of the era which help to set the tone of the film; in this case, some late-eighties hair-styles and the cream-coloured, box-like computers. Yet, unlike the two aforementioned films, Shadow Dancer runs out of steam, turning to an eclectic mix of predictability and vagueness that undermines much of what is good about the movie.

Collette meeting with her MI5 boss, called Mac (Clive Owen), to discuss the IRA’s latest plans.

Aided by a well-written, realistic script and solid acting, Shadow Dancer illustrates the tough life of a militant activist and the dangers of being a double-timer for a movement like the IRA. This is all exemplified astoundingly by Andrea Riseborough as the vulnerable Collette. Without doubt, Riseborough is the star of the film and enhances her growing reputation, after emerging as the only actor to come out unscathed from W.E., the atrocity directed by Madonna. Riseborough makes us empathise with Collette’s difficult and mentally-strenuous situation without appearing weak or cowardly. And her Northern Irish accent is flawless. All of this is no small achievement.

Furthermore, Collette’s position in the IRA enables viewers to see the men and women of the IRA’s ‘military wing’ for what they are. While it shows instances of their malevolence, it also has the effect of humanising them, especially Gerry Adams. (Aiden Gillen, with no less distinction, playing a quieter and much less charming role than as Lord ‘Littlefinger’ Petyr Baelish, the king’s slimy and untrustworthy advisor, in Game of Thrones.)

Moreover, Collette’s situation allows audiences to gain an understanding of the IRA’s internal disagreements over the treaty, between the ‘military wing and the ‘political wing,’ the latter headed by Ian Gilmour (Stuart Graham).

Collette looking on sadly at a funeral, standing alongside with Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), her brother Connor (Dohmnall Gleeson), and her mother (played by Brid Brennan). The red haired man in the background.

Yet, surprisingly, Shadow Dancer does not do the same for the inner workings of the British secret services, vis-à-vis the IRA. Whereas TTSS was layered with intrigue, Shadow Dancer falls into a (depressing) cliché wherein Mac plays the ‘good operative,’ since he backs the main character, in contrast to Kate (played by a steely Gillian Anderson), his main (villain-like) adversary, who has an ulterior motive and isn’t given the time to justify herself.

All-in-all, Shadow Dancer is another worthwhile movie made by the BFI. Like TTSS and Harry Brown, it has a grounded and harsh feel that is only lightened by the remarkable performance of Andrea Riseborough. It is just a pity for Riseborough that Shadow Dancer’s storyline lacks the complexity and plausibility that is so striking about her display.

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Review – The Dark Knight Rises (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

Cinematographer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Once in a decade, perhaps, are audiences treated to a trilogy wherein the three films are not only worthy of five stars each, but also raise the bar over the movie that preceded it. Ten years ago, it was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, which culminated beautifully in the epic The Return of the King. Now, it is the turn of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Legend saga, which has climaxed spectacularly with The Dark Knight Rises.

The monstrous-looking, hulking Bane (Tom Hardy). Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor intends to finish off Gotham once and for all, forcing Batman to come out of his virtual retirement.

Eight years have passed since Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) defeated the Joker, killed the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and disappeared. Since then, Gotham has branded Batman an enemy, after he took responsibility for Dent’s crimes to uphold the reputation of the ‘White Knight.’ Whilst away from his former exploits, Bruce has been a recluse, investing some of his considerable wealth in peaceful nuclear energy and the Wayne Foundation, where he uses the expertise of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to good effect.

However, Gotham now faces a new threat. The League of Shadows has returned and is led by the masked, super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), who is out to destroy Gotham and Batman with it. After Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded trying to take out Bane, leaving the police almost solely in the hands of the young idealist officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Bruce feels that the time has come to don the bat-gear again. But how will Gotham take to his return? And what will Batman do with the criminal Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who has a mysterious interest in Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprise?

Rises’ plot might be slow-moving for the first hour and it certainly requires great levels of concentration for the entire 164 minutes; yet, the film is intellectually-stimulating, absorbing and multi-layered. It also builds up to a stunning, well-thought-through climax, ensuring that those who give the movie their full attention will be rewarded.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the storyline is that Nolan cleverly links Rises with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the two previous instalments in the series. He does this by making the caped crusader rise to a new mental and physical challenge, which is a direct result of his prior victory over the League of Shadows; and by illustrating the relevance of Batman and Harvey Dent as symbols of hope against injustice and corruption. (Not to mention demonstrating how susceptible the fabrics of society are to implosion when the symbols are smashed.)

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wearing her figure-revealing ‘cat’ outfit while she steals what she needs at night and fights her way out of trouble.

Furthermore, Nolan intelligently incorporated genuine, present-day issues and analogies into the previous two films to make them relatable to the epoch. He does it again in Rises. Like in The Dark Knight, he throws in moral and ethical dilemmas here to illustrate just how tough and messy decisions can be for our political leaders (in the war on terror). And, like in Batman Begins, Nolan underlines how sophisticated, scientific technology can be used as weapons. In the first film in the series, it was the dangers of microwave emitters. In the third, it’s the threat posed by ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (Iran) and what happens should they fall into the wrong hands.

Arguably, Rises lacks a character with the charisma of the Joker, especially as he is Batman’s traditional nemesis. Nevertheless, the astuteness of the plot and the excellence of the cast make up for this absence. Christian Bale superbly reveals the psychological torment and the multifaceted nature of Bruce Wayne that makes all other comic-book based protagonists, such as those in Fantastic Four, The Avengers Assemble and Spiderman appear immature and superficial by comparison; Anne Hathaway looks as eye-catching in tightly-fitted latex as she plays; Michael Caine again gives a touching performance as Alfred, Bruce’s wise fatherly butler, as does Morgan Freeman as the humorous Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprise; and, lastly, Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane.

Just as Nolan did with the villains Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face in the other movies, he’s turned Bane from a pantomime fool (as was seen in the unwatchable 1997 Batman & Robin) into a complex and sinister character, with a distressing backstory. It is not merely Bane’s brute strength and intelligence that’s scary, it’s also the glint of frightening fanaticism in his eyes which was probably last seen with Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Batman (Christian Bale), with renewed vigour, battling it out with Bane to save Gotham from destruction.

While the actors do their parts splendidly, so too do the special effects team and Hans Zimmer. The effects look so real, viewers have to remind themselves that CGI was used. Similarly, the score may not be as grand or uplifting as the one composed by Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings; nonetheless, the dark disposition of Rises entails that Zimmer’s gothic-style music is apt and augments the scenes exponentially.

Over-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an engrossing and special conclusion to an exceptional trilogy. Christopher Nolan has transformed the Batman story from a joke into a dark and very human tale that has relevance to the current era, making all other comic-book based movies seem light and casual in contrast. Once more, Nolan has used intelligence and a phenomenal cast to outdo himself in the same way that Peter Jackson did almost a decade ago. Heaven knows, it might be another ten years before we see a series of such brilliance again.

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