“Nobody dies. Nobody gets hurt.” That’s the promise M15 agent Mac (Clive Owen) makes to Colette (Andrea Riseborough), a young mother and I.R.A. operative he recruits to spy on her family. It is not, however, a promise Mac can keep.
Directed by James Marsh, best known for the documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim, Shadow Dancer is a decent thriller made better by good performances and an intriguing setting. Set mostly in Belfast in 1993, the film uses the backdrop of the guerrilla warfare between Great Britain and the Irish Republican Army to examine one woman’s ideals and loyalty.
Colette comes from a family of rebels (or terrorists, depending on your perspective); her brothers (Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones and Domhnall Gleeson from Anna Karenina) are operatives upon whom the British government would very much like to spy. Caught after an aborted bombing, Colette wants to protect them, but she has a young son, and when Mac threatens to take him away she agrees to provide MI5 with information.
Mac has his own problems, though. His hardcase boss (Gillian Anderson) is deliberately keeping him out of the loop.
Shadow Dancer is on occasion hard to follow; the accents aren’t always easy on American ears, which renders some plot points murky at times, and some of the finer points of the war between MI5 and the IRA will be lost on those not familiar with the subject. The script, adapted by Tom Bradby from his novel, could use a bit of fleshing out.
But Riseborough (Oblivion, Disconnect, W.E.) has become an actress to watch, and as Colette she keeps Mac and the audience guessing about which way her loyalties will go in the end.
Cast: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson.
Director: James Marsh.
Screenwriter: Tom Bradby, from his novel.
Producers: Chris Coen, Ed Gueney, Andrew Lowe.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 101 minutes. Language, some violent content. Opens Friday June 7 in Miami-Dade only: Cosford, Tower.