Andrea Riseborough is a chameleon actress who makes her mark in everything she does, from Madonna’s “W.E.” as fashionplate Wallis Simpson and Tom Cruise’s seductive housemate/overseer in “Oblivion” to terrorist in James Marsh’s elegantly crafted IRA thriller “Shadow Dancer,” which played the Sundance Fest in January. The movie is available now on iTunes and On Demand and hits theaters May 31 (Rotten Tomatoes reviews, running at 93%, are here).
Marsh is a doc and feature director I always take seriously, from the exquisite style of Oscar-winning Philippe Petit doc “Man on Wire” (2008) and his humorous “Project Nim” (2011, my interview with him here) to his taut installment of the “Red Riding” trilogy (2009).
“Shadow Dancer,” while it keeps its scope small, does not disappoint. Gorgeously photographed on scrubby Belfast locations, the movie keeps its focus close on the pale faces of a family in 1993 trapped on their own precarious tightrope walk between their paranoid IRA handlers and hostile British soldiers. The movie is well-cast: Aiden Gillen returns to his Irish roots after breakout roles in “The Wire” and “Game of Thrones” as one of her two brothers, and “Anna Karenina”‘s Domhnall Gleeson plays the other.
Smart single mom Colette (Riseborough), who as a young girl lost her wee brother to a Brit attack, plants an IRA bomb in a London subway, and gets caught by MI5 emerging from the tunnels. Agent Mac (excellent Clive Owen) persuades her to spy for them in exchange for the freedom to live with her mom and young son. Her other choice: 25 years in prison. “They’re going to kill me,” she says simply. “I’ll protect you,” he promises. These two decent people soon realize that they are both trapped in an untenable situation where trust and safety are not possible.
In one telling scene, suspected of being an informant, Colette is interrogated by an IRA officer as a plastic sheet is unrolled on the floor of the adjoining room. On her way out, a man rolls the plastic back up. Colette stands apart as neither one of the guys –although they trust her to carry out dangerous missions–nor one of the sad women who line up against a all, smoking cigs and watching their men carry yet another casket to the cemetary.
The only time Colette smiles is when she looks at her young son. And that’s what motivates her to keep moving.