Shadow Dancer: A Popcorn Movie for Grown-Ups

05/29/2013 4:00 AM |

Shadow Dancer
Directed by James Marsh

Typically, the summer is time for mindless entertainments. Still, you can be mindless without being totally, you know, dumb. The IRA days have been done to death in the movies, but director Marsh—best known lately for documentaries like Man on Wire, though he’s proven adept at genre filmmaking in his Red Riding installment and Wire‘s heisty recreations—makes them if not fresh then at least not dull. The first five minutes of the movie, featuring a planned-but-aborted London subway bombing, are together a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling: the character’s intent and second thoughts are telegraphed without music and only the tiniest bit of acting. Instead Marsh communicates through images: a train, a shoulder bag, the faces of commuters, the face of the bomber.

The woman with the bomb (Andrea Riseborough) is arrested, and the British authorities (led by Clive Owen) threaten to send her son into foster care, thus turning her into a spy against her brothers: she’s a staunch Republican convinced to betray her family both to save her son and to stop the killing. The script, by Tom Bradby from his novel, adopts a LeCarre-like morality; there are no good guys. It’s a classic find-the-mole picture whose simple moral is that killing is wrong, whether it’s being done by the “terrorists” or the “terrorized.” (And who’s who, anyway?) But this isn’t some ruminative, politically thorny piece about a 20th-century conflict; it’s a tensely plotted, edge-of-your-seat spy movie, an enjoyable thriller that, if not particularly smart, is at least smartly made.

Opens May 31