The Dancer Upstairs

Directed by John Malkovich

> > Nov 2003

The Dancer Upstairs - Directed by John Malkovich
By Allan TongPoliceman Augustin must track down an elusive terrorist named Ezequiel before the panicked government imposes martial law. Ezequiel strikes randomly (during a play, dispatching poor children to carry bombs and wield guns) to paralyze his countrymen with fear. He issues no manifesto, but leaves behind his signature of a dead dog hanging in public view. In China, a dead dog symbolises a tyrant executed by the people. Though filmed before 9/11, The Dancer Upstairs eerily captures the current paranoia over terrorism. John Malkovich's directorial debut is based on Nicholas Shakespeare's novel, which in turn was inspired by the Peruvian terrorist group, the Shining Path. Dancer, however, focuses less on the cat-and-mouse chase and more on the fear gripping this unnamed Latin American country. Malkovich's style is meditative and languorous, preferring drama over thriller, and the results are mixed. This approach works best to catch the audience off-guard, most horrifyingly in the slaughter that happens at an experimental theatre performance. Other times, Malkovich's style fails to build suspense and robs the film of drive. Otherwise, Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls) heads an effective cast, while cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine shoots with a moody palette. The extra features focus mainly on Malkovich. The audio commentary by Malkovich and Bardem sheds light on innumerable production details but lacks passion. The Sundance Channel featurette briefly presents a rare interview of Malkovich, revealing a cool, cerebral personality. More revealing is the standard "Making Of" featurette, which traces the project from Shakespeare's novel to Malkovich's film. What's missing is footage of Malkovich a brilliant actor with a rich background in theatre directing his actors. Altogether, this is a satisfying disc of a flawed but substantial film. Plus: trailers. (Fox)
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