Dancer Upstairs

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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Javier Bardem, Juan Diego Botto, Laura Morante, Elvira Minguez
Director: John Malkovich

A while ago Nicholas Shakespeare wrote a book, a semi-factual account of the pursuit and capture of Peru’s guerrilla organisation, The Shining Path. John Malkovich read the book and immediately bought the rights and commissioned Mr Shakespeare to write the screenplay, only using the book as the basis for a fictional story.

Five years in the making, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS features Javier Bardem as Agustin Rejas, once a lawyer, now a cop – because he wanted “to practice law in a more just way” – investigating a series of seemingly isolated terrorist incidents which soon become traced to the work of one man, known only as Ezequiel together with his paramilitary organisation bent on taking over the country.

A simple story but THE DANCER UPSTAIRS is far more than a man with an obsession out with his own agenda. It’s a fantastic blend of action film, thriller, drama, cop-buddy movie, romance, in fact, almost every genre you can think of rolled into one. What makes this work is that there is absolutely no sign of gratuitous guff. In this film there was clearly more sense than money – the actors speak when they need to, there is no throwaway extraneous dialogue and every shot is clearly there for a reason. There are no multi-camera angle action set pieces, the performances are flawless and more importantly, real. There are sequences of genuine suspense and we are not hinted towards predetermined moments we have to react to. Amongst all of this are some smile-raising lines of dialogue to remind us it’s only a movie.

This is not a typical Hollywood movie but it is an excellent piece of filmmaking.

5 out of 6 stars