“Shadow Dancer” Review: Spy Drama Focuses On Tension More Than Action


By Wesley Emblidge

Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough in "Shadow Dancer"
Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough in “Shadow Dancer”

James Marsh is a director best known for his work with documentaries, primarily his Oscar-winning 2008 film “Man on a Wire.” The film about Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope stunt was exciting, tense and thrilling, and it was all true. Now, with “Shadow Dancer,” Marsh has successfully translated that success into narrative features, although this isn’t his narrative debut.

In the 1990s, IRA member Collette (Andrea Riseborough) is given a choice by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) after a failed attack. She can go away to prison for 25 years, away from her young son, or she can spy on her own family for MI5 to stop future attacks.

The film is essentially Riseborough’s movie; it lives and dies on her performance. Luckily, she’s great in the role, getting to do far more than her small female supporting roles in the two mediocre action movies this year (“Oblivion” and “Welcome to the Punch”) she became popular in. It’s a very slow burn, without a lot of action, most of the tension lies in very simple interactions. The script and direction are just smart enough to make it all work, and a very talented supporting cast including Domhnall Gleeson (“Anna Karenina,” a small role in a few “Harry Potter” films) and Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”), doesn’t hurt.


4/5 Stars