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The Dancer Upstairs

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
The Dancer Upstairs
from Film Forum, 05/08/03

Actor John Malkovich makes his debut as a film director with The Dancer Upstairs, a film based on an acclaimed novel by Nicholas Shakespeare. This thriller is set in Latin America, where a police detective (Javier Bardem) is tempted toward marital infidelity by a beautiful dancer (Laura Morante), disrupting his dangerous hunt for the leader of a terrorist organization. The story takes its inspiration from mid-'90s headlines about the search for the ringleader of the Shining Path movement in Peru.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) writes, "The film manages the feat of being a methodical police procedural that is quietly riveting. Much of this can be credited to Bardem's perfectly pitched performance. What lifts the film above the typical thriller action-film genre is the nuanced narrative. Rejas' struggle with marital fidelity and determination to remain uncorruptable also give the drama a thoughtful and welcome moral sensibility. Dancer … has at times a mournful tone that makes one want to offer up a prayer for all the world's victims of terrorism."

But the critic at Movieguide objects, saying the film "settles for psychological ambiguity rather than moral clarity."

from Film Forum, 05/29/03

Film Forum featured some religious press responses to John Malkovich's debut film The Dancer Upstairsa few weeks back. This week, J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) posted a new review of the film, praising everything but the love story at its center, which he calls merely "a plot device."

But otherwise, he's impressed. "Javier Bardem's strong performance carries the film. The political intrigue is genuinely suspenseful. And though the movie was in production for six years, it feels particularly timely. Rural revolutionary movement starts terrorizing the country with bombs and assassinations, government reacts by squelching civil liberties and using the terror as a pretext to advance its own agenda. Not to compare our current American situation with Peru's nightmare years of the Shining Path, but there are some similarities. For those moviegoers not afraid of the political, The Dancer Upstairs provides many pleasures. Just don't expect it to have much of a heart."