Presumably helped along by “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s” revival of the shady spy genre (let’s call it the art house’s answer to Bond and Bourne), “Shadow Dancer” is a supremely well-made European espionage thriller, focusing on the IRA and the later years of the Troubles in 1990s Belfast.
After a botched subway bombing attempt in London (a scene that makes for a riveting opener), Collette (Andrea Riseborough) gets nabbed by the police and presented with a wrenching choice: Become an informant for MI5 and betray her own family, or spend 25 years in prison and be stripped of everything, including her young son.
What follows is a slowly-burning, largely bloodless action-drama, filled with unforeseeable power shifts and ever-uncertain double-crosses. Handling Colette’s case is sympathetic agent Mac (Clive Owen), who observes the woman’s struggle and lets his emotions seep into the job. That causes friction with Mac’s hard-nosed superior Kate (Gillian Anderson), another character who may not be exactly who she seems.
Directed by James Marsh, a gifted artist in multiple formats (he helmed 2008’s masterful documentary “Man on Wire”), “Shadow Dancer” is filmed with a wondrous atmospheric haze, and plays out in a tantalizingly taught, economical manner. The movie’s uncertainties are indeed a reflection of the uncertain times it’s depicting, and its highly unpredictable ending may just be the least of its virtues, which is saying a lot.
Finally playing an English agent after so much prior hubbub (he was Pierce Brosnan’s rumored 007 successor before Daniel Craig stepped in), Owen proves he’s still uncannily skilled at expressing burning emotion through a face of smoldering stoicism. And he’s nevertheless upstaged by his costar, Riseborough, whose turn as the silently, enigmatically tortured Collette is primed to be one of the year’s best female performances.
Introduced to U.S. audiences through her title role in “W.E.,” this richly talented British breakout channels Maria Falconetti in her emotive face, sculpting a compelling mystery of acting that begs to be seen again. She’s the personification of this gem of a summer alternative: Reserved, alluring and unexpectedly great.
Three-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse
A breathtaking thriller from Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), “Stoker” tells of a strange family with a great wealth of dangerous secrets, including what happened to the father of India (Mia Wasikowska), why her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) is suddenly in her life, and what his relation is to her mother (Nicole Kidman). There’s little of moral value to take away from this tale blood ties, but it’s one of 2013’s most beautifully constructed films.
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