A knotted drama of terrorism and double agentry set in Belfast in the early 1990s, Shadow Dancer boasts a fiercely focused performance from Andrea Riseborough as Collette McVeigh, a Northern Ireland IRA member arrested after an aborted bombing in a London Underground station.
Clive Owen is the MI5 detective who tracks her down - and convinces her to turn against her Republican confreres. She wears a red raincoat. They meet on a windswept quay. It's the stuff of spy movie romances, of John le Carré, but then the brutal realities of the Troubles kick in.
Directed by James Marsh, who made the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire (with its thrilling, heistlike reenactments) and the second and creepiest installment of the Red Riding murder trilogy, Shadow Dancer is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Tom Bradbury. (Bradbury wrote the neatly complicated script.) The title refers to the code name given to Riseborough's character by British intelligence. It's the only uninteresting thing about the film.
Beginning with a jolting prologue, set in the early 1970s, when Collette was a little girl, and ending with a head-spinning turn of events, Shadow Dancer finds everyone - Collette's family, IRA paramilitarists, British police, and intelligence officials - moving through shifting levels of deceit and mistrust.
Collette's two brothers, Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson), high-ranking IRA soldiers both, eye their sister warily. And back at the MI5 offices, Owen's Mac, who has promised to protect his informant and her son, finds himself at odds with his boss (an effectively chilly Gillian Anderson).
Shadow Dancer is slow-burning, but Riseborough - Tom Cruise's cohabitating helpmate in Oblivion, the scoop-hungry TV news reporter in Disconnect - keeps the tension high. Her work is indrawn and riveting. It's hard to read the look in her eye, but we never stop trying.
Shadow Dancer *** (out of four stars)
Directed by James Marsh. With Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen, and Bríd Brennan. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse