By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Regardless of your personal feelings about the angry Irish Republican Army and how remote their disputes might seem from the endless downtown Tucson street destruction and trolley car troubles, there is value in seeing “Shadow Dancer” at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
While there are some suspenseful plot similarities to the elegant “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” James Marsh, the director, and Tom Bradby, who adapted the script from his own book, have chosen to make “Shadow Dancer” more about the psychological damage wreaked on all participants during such internecine conflicts.
No one’s moral compass points continuously true north. Through the plot’s convoluted twists and turns of compromise, all the black villains and white heroes become as gray as Ireland’s own murky skies.
Perhaps this is the film’s most important message: in all conflicts between governments both established and irregular, survival depends on every family pulling together on its own. To let a family become divided against itself not only guarantees defeat but also destruction.
The plot setup belies its complexity. In Belfast in 1973. young Collette McVeigh (Maria Laird) sees her younger brother die in cold blood. In 1993, Collette (now played by Andrea Riseborough) joins her surviving siblings Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) and Gerry (Aiden Gillen) in their retaliatory actions on behalf of the IRA.
Alas, in London Collette fails to detonate a bomb and is caught by MI5’s Mac (Clive Owen). More unfortunately, Mac knows about Collette’s dead brother and her own son.
Playing these cards, Mac promises MI5 protection for Collette and her son if Collette promises to turn coat and help bring down her family members in the IRA. If she won’t, Collette goes off to prison for 25 years.
What’s a poor girl to do? Faced with having to choose between her brothers and her son, she goes undercover with hopes of navigating between Mac’s responsibilities to enforce the peace and the IRA’s attacks in the name of justice.
As a theatrical performance, Riseborough poignantly portrays all the conflicting emotions of her impossible situation. As a thriller, “Shadow Dancer” keeps its thrills to the mental sort.
For those addicted to all the quick-take special digital effects of Batman/Spider-Man/Superman, “Shadow Dancer” could seem slower that Sherlock Holmes’ ruminations on an unexpected wrinkle in the clothing of a criminal suspect.
Come prepared to appreciate nuance and subtlety even as the threat of gunfire and explosions always hang in the air, and be rewarded with the piquance of an intelligent adventure inevitably bittersweet.