With the phenomenal success of both 2008’s Man on Wire and last year’s Project Nim (don’t worry, the latter is on my ones-to-watch list), James Marsh is a filmmaker that’s really pushed the boundaries of the documentary form, making it accessible to popcorn chomping cinema goers. But when he’s not too busy getting down to the facts, he’s a dab-handed fiction director too, with the gloomy Channel 4 Red Riding Trilogy, and 2005’s The King starring Mexican poster boy Gael Garcia Bernal. Often directors have difficulty successfully zipping between the two forms, but is Marsh really that filmically ambidexterous? Seeing his latest Shadow Dancer, I start to wonder.
Set against the backdrop of Irish terrorism in the nineties, Shadow Dancer stars the burgeoning superstar Andrea Riseborough as an IRA member turned unwilling informant for the MI5, personified by the insufferably beige Clive Owen.
Undeniably a fiction film, it nevertheless has a similar meticulousness as Marsh’s documentary works; dealing with the harsh truths of Northern Ireland’s recent past with delicacy. That in itself is commendable for the purposes of verbatim-filmmaking, but doesn’t necessarily make for a gripping drama. Aside from a very solid and equally delicate Riseborough performance, there isn’t much to cling on to here. By no means a terrible film, it lacks the gumption and flare which the difficult, terrorist subject matter requires, which is surprisingly more apparent in the Tom Bradby novel from which it is adopted.
Good enough, but considering the previous successes of James Marsh, good enough isn’t good enough. Where are the goods, James? I NEED THE GOODS!
THE GOOD: Riseborough, but I could have told you that without even turning up to the screening.
THE BAD: Just as the film allows for some momentum and tensive atmosphere to unfurl it ends all too abruptly.