Thursday, June 20, 2013

Shadow Dancer [2012]

MPAA (R) (4/5) (3/5) (3/5)  ChicagoSunTimes (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (G. Burke) review 
Irish Times (D. Clarke) review review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review

Chicago SunTimes (M. Houlihan) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Shadow Dancer [2012] (directed by James Marsh, novel and screenplay by Tom Bradby) is a reminder to me that every people has its story.  Since this film deals with the closing years of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the, the VERY FIRST THING that I did after seeing the movie (that was co-produced by both the BBC and the Irish Film Board) was to check what was written about the movie back in Ireland and the U.K. (see links above).  Since the film was film was fairly well received in both places I proceeded onward.

Now it's not as if I don't know anything about Northern Ireland.  Something like a 1/3 of the Catholics in the United States are at least partly of Irish descent.  The Servites (my religious order) in the United States is also very Irish, including many friars both of Irish American ancestry (born in the United States) and others who were born and joined the Servites in Ireland itself.  Indeed in the years immediately following WW II, it was one of the American Provinces of the Servite Friars who brought the Servite Order to Ireland and the first community that it founded in Ireland was in Benburb located a few miles from St. Patrick's resting place in Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Not being of Irish ancestry and yet being prepared to serve in the American Catholic Church and as part of a (Servite) Province that was heavily Irish, at the close of my seminary studies in Rome, I asked the Servites if I could spend some time in Ireland prior to returning to the United States and I remain honstly profoundly grateful to the Servites for having granted my request, because as the reader will see below, I honestly was given a remarkable experience as a result, and one that directly impacts on my ability to write about this film intelligently:

During my stay in Ireland besides being able to visit Armagh and Knock and Trinity College in Dublin, all the Servite ministries in Ireland, as well as various "towers" and other sites from pre-Christian / early-Christian days ;-), I was given both a whole bunch of reading material (which I devoured) about Ireland as well as the opportunity to stay for a week with a family in Belfast that's affiliated to us through the Servite Secular Order (OSSM).

Among the books that I read, was an excellent one by Robert Kee, entitled Ireland: A History that had served as a companion to a television series, again co-produced by the BBC and RTE (Radio and Television of Ireland), on Ireland's history.  The book, sober, documented, fascinating, challenged some of the longstanding myths about the land and people of Ireland cherished by both sides in the conflict there.  First, Ireland was not simply Gaelic.  It had contacts with Mediterranean peoples from Phoenician/Greco-Roman times.  Further, Dublin itself was first founded as a Viking settlement.  On the other side of the coin, the book helped me to understand why England only began setting up colonies in the New World nearly a hundred years after the Spaniards had come and conquered Mexico and South America, the answer being basically: Why go all the way to the New World to colonize new land when Ireland is right around the corner?  And indeed, BOTH of the major styles of colonization (the Jamestown, VA / Caribbean "Plantation Model" and the "Settlement Model" of the New England colonies, etc) that took place later in the British colonies in the New World took place in Ireland.  Southern Ireland was basically colonized along the lines of the "Plantation Model" (large estates with often absent English landlords), while Northern Ireland was settled by Calvinistic (non-Church of England) Presbyterian Scots fleeing religious persecution in progressively English dominated Scotland, the soon-to-be-called Scots-Irish displacing/marginalizing the native Irish (Gaelic-speaking and Catholic since St. Patrick in religion) population.  Finally, the book pointed-out that at different times in history both Catholic and Protestants in Ireland sought independence from the English crown (in the early 19th century, there was a Protestant Irish independence movement as the Scots-Irish of Northern Ireland didn't much like the English either...).

Then the stay with the family from the Servite Secular Order in Belfast (in the mid-1990s prior to the signing of the Good Friday Accord, at actually roughly the same time in which the current film was set) was truly an experience:  I saw the walls, I saw the murals both pro-IRA and pro-RUC.  We drove past the Sinn Fein HQ with GIGANTIC BOULDERS strewn all around it (said GIGANTIC BOULDERS serving as a rather obvious and apparently quite effective "anti-truck bomb barrier").  I got to see a rather nervous looking patrol of British soldiers walking down a street by a house where we were having tea with a family one time.  Finally, we were even stopped by the British army one time: two armored Land Rovers, with troops jumping out of them briefly surrounded our car.  (We were probably seeing "too much of Belfast..." than would have been typical at the time ...)  Calmly, smiling, with my hands visible, I gently pulled out my American passport to show to the commander.  He took a look at it and soon enough the soldiers were jumping back into the two Land Rovers.  The commander apologized for any inconvenience and they were off again and so were we.  My driver, the wife/mother of the Belfast family where I was staying, started breathing again shortly thereafter ;-)
All this is to say that I honestly "get" the seriousness of the story being told in the film reviewed here:

Okay then, let's get to said film ... Shadow Dancer [2012] begins in 1973.  A ten year old girl is asked by her father who's busy talking on the phone, to run down to the corner store to get him a pack of cigarettes.  Going to the next room, she convinces her little brother run the errand instead.  He goes out.

A few minutes later, there appears to be some sort of commotion outside.  We don't really see the commotion except by way of a glancing view (through the home's front window) to one side.  There is commotion outside but the family itself, minus the little boy who had run out for those cigarettes, is sitting in the kitchen.  Shadows are seen running past that (front) window to the side.  Shots are heard.  More shadows are seen running.  Finally, there's a frantic knock on the door.  Mother and daughter answer, while dad's still on the phone.  A couple of people come rushing into the home carrying the little boy.  Of course, he's been shot.  Of course ... he dies.  Of course, one assumes that the ten year old girl would probably blame herself for her little brother's death.  After all,  she was the one who sent him to get those cigarettes instead of running the errand herself...

Flash forward to 1993, a young woman is seen walking quite carefully along the stairs/corridor of a not particularly busy London Underground station.  When no one is it sight, she lays said purse down on the stairs and then proceeds with a quicker pace to walk away.  She seems to be somewhat schooled in this task.  She turns a few corners, finds a utility door that presumably is normally locked, but isn't now.  She goes through said utility door, passes through a whole series of other, smaller, darker passages.  Finally she comes to another utility door that leads out of the station.  She opens it, gets out of the station, closes the door and proceeds walking at still a relatively adrenaline-driven pace down a nondescript alley becoming more and more confident with each step that "all's gone well" ... 'cept that it hasn't.

Two plainclothes police men with earpieces suddenly appear from around a corner.  They descend on her, and grab a hold of her.  A car pulls up, they push her into a car, get in it themselves and ... take her to ... an "undisclosed location."   Eventually, they take her to a room in some utterly nondescript building.  Inside the room, are simply two chairs and a desk.  There is a fairly large window, but nothing of note can be seen outside.  The walls are white, the floor is tiled, the ceiling looks like sheet-rock.  The room could be of an unfinished office or residential building.  And the place is empty, except of course for the interrogator's station in the room immediately next door.

The would-be interrogator, who we come to know as Mac (played by Clive Owen) lets the woman who we come to know as Colette (played by Andrea Riseborough) stew sitting in her chair in her room for a while to "ponder her situation."  Eventually he gets up, enters her room and proceeds to tell her calmly yet forcefully: "It's over.  We have you.  We have a stack of documents and photos against you. You're going down (for decades of your life).  If you ever want to see _your little son_ again ... you're gonna have to make a deal with us."  She tells him to "F-off" and he leaves the room leaving a stack of the documents and photos against her with her to ponder...

Some time he comes back.  She asks for a lawyer.  He shakes his head and tells her "You don't need a lawyer.  You need us.  These are the papers, all already filled-out (he shows them to her...) All they need is a signature of a judge and your kid will become a ward of the state because you're going to go to jail on terrorism charges... unless ..." Unless, of course, she comes to work for them.  Who is them?  Of course MI5.  The rest of the story ensues ...

Of course, the IRA isn't stupid.  When she does reappear (after even a few hours of having disappeared) there are immediate suspicions... In this kind of shadow war, very few instructions are given to very few people at any given time.  So each time something goes wrong a quick and rather decisive "internal investigation" is done.  So how long can someone be in the IRA, yet spying for MI5 and ... live?

And yet, it's also even more complicated than that.  This is because the I.R.A. isn't portrayed as merely a "terrorist organization."  It's a neighborhood organization.  The people who Colette is being asked to spy on are her own friends and family.  Again, the details of any given "terrorist action" are known by only a very small circle of people (1-2 very close friends or family besides oneself).  And while Colette was caught placing a somewhat over-sized purse (that could have but didn't have to have any bomb in it ... the mere threat of there possibly being a bomb inside was enough...) most terrorist actions were really much more "up close and personal" ... like simply "whacking" (shooting/killing) a R.U.C. police captain (in retribution for a previous action on his part ...) as he got into his car to go to work one day ...

So IMHO the film captured the various dimensions -- official/bureaucratic, familial, both personal and stone cold/macheavellian -- of the conflict in North Ireland very well.  And I'm honestly, very very happy for the people who were involved (on all sides) that THANKFULLY the Good Friday Accord was reached in 1998 and that it has held since.  The shadow war in Northern Ireland was a terrible burden on absolutely all who lived there.  And it is a relief / blessing to all that it's over.

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