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Overall Rating

Worth A Look27.03%
Average: 21.62%
Pretty Bad: 21.62%
Total Crap: 2.7%

3 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Dancer Upstairs, The
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by Slyder

"Uneven, But Still A Well Made Gem"
4 stars

Everyone knows John Malkovich. Heís one of the greatest actors in cinema and in theater, most notably in theater, where his delicate skill at acting and directing and art designing for the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago has been recognized and awarded nationwide. In film, he was a two-time Oscar Nominee for his absorbing performances in Places Of The Heart and In The Line Of Fire, as well as many versatile roles heís played throughout his career, like playing himself in the Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze satire Being John Malkovich. Now, he sits behind the camera in the directorís chair to give us The Dancer Upstairs, a rare and interesting film that premiered on The Sundance Film Festival just this year. Itís quite an interesting little film, with some original twists, and effective suspense.

The film is the story of a lawyer turned cop named Augustin Rejas (Javier Bardem, Before The Night Falls), who gets assigned a difficult case in a South American country (I believe itís Peru), which is to track down an elusive group of terrorists that are making the city go in total chaos. Many terrorist attacks, have been targeted at many political figures of that countryís government, besides stirring terror all along the country, and the terror of the ones being used to bring it (children are used for delivering the bombs and shootings). But the clue that gets Rejas going is that every time the terrorists strike, whoever delivers the bomb screams out ďViva el Presidente Ezequiel!Ē With that clue, they start to unravel lots of mysteries that draw deep inside Rejasís own roots in the rural country, where he was born, and to try to find Ezequiel before he continues to do even more damage to the city. At the same time, heís personal life and his relationship with his daughterís dance teacher Yolanda (Laura Morante) start to play an important factor in his life, and in his case.

The most interesting thing Iíve seen in this film is its take on a somewhat unconventional story. Itís a fable that deals with several subjects and its complexities. Itís pretty complex, and mysterious since it mixes a political story, police work, suspense, and love into one pretty tight film. I got to give hands down to Malkovich, who manages to blend the elements of suspense and love incredibly well. His careful eye for detail in every scene is eminent. The clear example is the way he portrays us the people or should I say the youngsters who have been brainwashed by these terrorists to commit theses acts. You can feel the fear and the horror of such acts and worse, the horror of witnessing the children that do them. Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does some great camerawork in many of these scenes throughout the movie

The film makes an unusual turn in mixing a love story and a political drama, and thatís where things start to go a little bit wrong. Rejasís sudden obsession with Yolanda gets focused too much that the film starts to derail from the original subject, it eventually gets back on track, but then again it falls under that spell from time to time. That drags the film a little, but still forges on with the investigation. The obsession that Rejas has with his investigation is also felt, and his paranoia of solving the case and his sudden love triangle that he has formed is nearly perfect, but the movieís strong point is itís metaphors that it uses. The metaphor of dancing, I believe, is a representation of human nature and itís surroundings. A dancer has a meaning; he or she dances to a tune. The tune represents his/her beliefs in his mind, while the dance is his/her reactions or interpretations of his/her mind reflected in everyday life. A terroristís dance is his deadly actions, while he dances to a tune of death and evil. An investigator dances to the tune of mystery and willingness to seek and uncover the truth. There may be more to whatís portrayed here, since this film sort of left me scratching my head for a long time, but from what I saw, it remains he filmís centerpiece and itís really interesting how the film views human nature and itís branches of good and evil. The point that the movie gives out is very well done and I really liked it for that. The ending is also unusual but it also makes sense to what the film is trying to say, and I applaud the efforts of the filmmakers, especially Malkovich and screenwriter Nicholas Shakespeare (who based it from his book) for their work in this movie.

The performances are dead-on. Javier Bardem, looking like a younger Edward James Olmos is excellent as the troubled Rejas, and really is the standout of the entire movie. Laura Morante is also great as Yolanda, whom plays an important role in the movie, and her performance is also a standout. The rest of the supporting cast was also great.

In the end, this film is pretty much a work of art. It stands out because it avoids the usual conventionalism and formulaic clichťs that are always lying around in these types of political dramas. It drags somewhat halfway through the film, but still manages to come on top. John Malkovich certainly manages to impress in his directorial debut, and I applaud him for that. Lets hope this film will be given a wider release.

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originally posted: 01/23/02 05:04:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/06/08 mr.mike The film - and Bardem - are a bit too laid-back for my taste. 3 stars
4/30/07 Phil M. Aficionado 4+ stars, rounded up to 5 because it is based on an actual story and characters; well-made 5 stars
12/20/06 saladin surprisingly moving & delicate, loving direction & music 4 stars
8/29/05 Cun To PISH 5 stars
3/11/05 axefell remarkably bold but patently ridiculous 3 stars
10/19/04 Catherine Hornby Intriguing. A bit unfair - but as they say "All's fair in Love and War". 4 stars
8/05/04 Chuck Patterson Javier Bardem's, dialogue was difficult to understand. This movie is no good. 2 stars
7/13/03 John Bale Brooding romantic terrorist drama with realistic South American atmosphere 5 stars
7/01/03 Marc complex (difficult), but well done 4 stars
5/23/03 Jorge Depth and sincerity! Touches the heart! 5 stars
5/19/03 Andrew Carden Gets All Too Caught Up On It's Own Problems, and Bites Off More Than It Can Chew. 2 stars
5/17/03 mike nope 1 stars
1/09/03 Bertold Brecht Awesome 5 stars
11/12/02 Beatler Well-made and provocative - more than you can say about 99% of films these days 5 stars
11/02/02 Abhay Vandenberg (Film Scene) One of the most subtlety complex films in a long time. Spectacular!!! 4 stars
10/02/02 Movie Star Spectacular 5 stars
9/27/02 Jesķs One of the most subtlety complex films in a long time 5 stars
8/14/02 Janaina Awesome 5 stars
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  02-May-2003 (R)



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