The Dancer Upstairs
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the dancer upstairs For his directorial debut, Malkovich has chosen a complex true story, fictionalised by Shakespeare (based on his novel), about terrorism in Latin America. Couldn't be more timely really. And the film is absolutely beautiful. The story centres on Lt Rejas (Bardem), an anti-terrorism detective who with his young live-wire partner Sucre (Botto) is on the trail of the mythical leader (Folk) of a subversive, violent revolutionary group that claims to be the "fourth flame of communism." As Rejas, Sucre and their team close in on their man, they must overcome obstacles in the form of political-military leaders (Cintra and Cotton), as well as a distracting spark of romance between Rejas and his daughter's ballet teacher (Morante).

The story is fascinating, with layers of interest as a thriller, romance and political drama. Malkovich uses his camera superbly, capturing tiny details in scenes and characters, as well as making expert use of the setting (most of it was filmed in Ecuador, my home country, although the real story took place in Peru). Bardem is also excellent, quietly and subtly conveying Rejas' frustrations, confusions and dedication to the job. This is a man who has made very difficult choices in his life ... and has more to come. There are levels of suspense, romance and intrigue here, all of which weave together into the overall narrative. And the intelligent script has just enough humour to keep from taking itself seriously. There are a few false moments here and there, partly because the mostly Latino cast all speak English, but also because this is a film made by North Americans! And with all the lovely camera work, the film drags a bit. Jose Luis Alcaine's camera work is drop dead gorgeous, which is probably why Malkovich seems self-indulgent in his editing choices, letting scenes go on too long and stopping the story in the process. Even so, this is a stunning debut. And much more than the average political thriller.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 6.Nov.02

dir John Malkovich
scr Nicholas Shakespeare
with Javier Bardem, Juan Diego Botto, Laura Morante, Elvira Minguez, Abel Folk, Luis Miguel Cintra, Oliver Cotton, Alexandra Lencastre, Marie-Anne Verganza, Montserrat Astudillo, Lucas Rodriguez, Wolframio Sinue
release UK 6.Dec.02; US 2.May.03
02/Spain 2h04

Interrogation. Lt Rejas (Bardem) finds himself falling for his daughter's dance teacher (Morante)...


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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall