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The Dancer Upstairs review

The Dancer Upstairs
15certificate 15
Running time: 124 minutes
Starring: Javier Bardem, Abel Folk, Laura Morante, Juan Diego Botto, Elvira Mínguez
Rating 6 out of 10
Acclaimed actor John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with this political thriller based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Shakespeare.

The Dancer Upstairs is an impressive first effort, distinguished by fluid camerawork and some finely judged performances, set against a grimy backdrop of labyrinthine city streets and run down shantytowns. Unfortunately, the running time is a tad overindulgent and the story lacks the momentum to always sustain our interest.

The film's setting is a nameless Latin American country, overwhelmed by the terrorist activities of the notorious revolutionary Ezequiel (Abel Folk) and his followers. The guerrilla leader is threatening to bring down the government and the entire country; the military response is equally forceful, creating an atmosphere of mass hysteria and impending doom.

Idealistic policeman Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) is hired to track down Ezequiel and his disciples, and to stem the growing tide of senseless violence. In the process, Agustin meets and falls under the spell of his daughter's ballet teacher, Yolanda (Laura Morante), whose role in the war against terrorism is anything but clear.

Rejas becomes increasingly distracted by his burgeoning affection for Yolanda, which could prove deadly when the police close in on Ezequiel's hiding place.

The Dancer Upstairs effectively depicts one man's crusade against violence, as he struggles against a rising tide of corruption and meddling from his superiors. Rejas says he threw away a promising career as a lawyer to discover "a more honourable way of practicing law". It's no wonder then that he pursues Ezequiel with relentless fervour, waiting patiently for the revolutionary to make the one mistake that will give him away.

Bardem is always watchable, and here he perfectly portrays a cop whose humanity and compassion blind him to the truth. The scenes with his young daughter add a human dimension to Rejas and provide a stark reminder of the future he is fighting for.

Malkovich doesn't impose himself behind the camera and slavishly follows Shakespeare's text, occasionally to the detriment of the picture.

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