This taut political thriller set in Latin America marks John Malkovich's explosive directorial debut. Academy Award nominee Javier Bardem (Best Actor, 2000 - Before Night Falls) stars as legit policeman Agustin Rejas, who ... more »faces the greatest challenge of his career - to catch the leader of a terrorist movement threatening to collapse his government, while being stopped at every turn by his own corrupt superiors. As the fight becomes more ferocious, Rejas' search brings him ever closer to the guerrilla leader. But when, amidst the chaos, he falls in love with his daughter's ballet teacher (Laura Morante), Rejas must choose between his heart, his country, and his own well-being.« less
Jennifer B. from ALLENTOWN, PA Reviewed on 3/30/2010...
Slow, beautiful, thinker's movie
Carol Toscano | New York City | 06/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though this movie is slow moving and quiet, it is one of the finest films I've seen in forever. Javier Bardem is amazing. No question. The music is spare but affecting (and one of the most memorable parts of this film). I don't want to give away any of the plot but this is a real thinker's love story (in the midst of a terrorist revolution-in-the-making backdrop), smart, brilliant, surprising in every way without gratuitous sex scenes and cheesy, predictable "happily ever after" endings. Malkovich is a genius. Bardem makes you feel his pain. A must see for any smart film lover. Can't recommend enough."
Perfect, and Timely, Entertainment for the Thinking Viewer
Danusha Goska | Bloomington, IN | 12/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many viewers simply didn't *get* this movie.These are the folks who called it slow, too restrained, confusing.For the thinking viewer, this movie is not slow, and it is not confusing. It is a visual feast that leaves the mind, and soul, reeling; it is a puzzle that stays unfinished just long enough to make its points, and then closes with a heartbreakingly poignant finale. It is a tightly plotted, emotionally moving film that can be taken on several levels: as a political thriller, as a police procedural, as a meditation on the pleasures of domestic life v. extramarital passion.Most powerfully, though, this film talks about, and parallels, explosions -- the explosions of art, of politics, of terrorism, and of passion -- v. restraint. The restraint, for example, of a good man trying to live a decent life in a broken world. It's hard to talk about this film's most brilliant moments without giving away the whole plot, and that you don't want to do, because this movie's surprises are well worth it.But one can say -- watch how Malkovich uses the color red. Watch how he uses bars, as if the bars of a cage, when shooting Javier Bardem. Notice parallels, including in a scene where a young girl dances before a series of reflecting mirrors. Note the music she dances to. Notice who is the sole person ever to have photographed a certain elusive terrorist. Note references to Kant, most famous for his "Critique of Pure Reason."No, this film is no art house puzzle. But it does offer more than the pure pleasure and visual excitement of a nail biting political thriller, which it offers as well.It offers us food for thought about one of the biggest issues of the day -- terrorism.Is it ever right, this film asks, to give in to one's momentary passion and explode, either literally or metaphorically, when confronted with a variety of stimuli, from finding the love of your life, even if you're married to someone else, to having your coffee plantation seized by government troops?And, what kind of person has something in common with a terrorist, anyway? The answer the film offers might surprise you.I loved this movie. I wish more of my fellow viewers had gotten it. This film, in addition to being simply beautiful and entertaining, sets before us some of the biggest questions of the day. Finally, Bardem's performance, a masterpiece of restrained passion and thought, is not to be missed. Malkovich hit the bullseye."
Intelligent and subtle film debut for John Malkovich
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE DANCER UPSTAIRS is a fine example of how films conceived and produced by this country can have all the qualities we honor (and hunger for) in foreign films. Based on true events in the late 1980's in Peru, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS is adapted for the screen from the novel by the same name by the author - Nicholas Shakespeare. The story itself is one of extremes in terror, murder, heinous crimes, and all that is associated with terroist activities in a revolutionary framework. Yet Shakespeare has written a screenplay that focuses more on minds of his characters than on their acts. The 'revolutionary' is a professor of philosophy and his nemesis, tracing his identity and capture, is a thinking man's policeman - a lawyer who turned in his black robes to find a better way to discover honesty. Although Malkovich does not spare images that convey the atrocities (children as suicide bombers, slaughtered dogs hanging from the street lamps, mafia-style executions), he does not dwell on them but rather focuses on the impact on the mind of his lead detective. Javier Bardem is the lead actor here and surpasses his previous successes by demonstrating that he is a 'work in progress' - an actor who grows with every difficult assignment he encounters. His sidekick is well acted by Juan Diego Botto, an actor who knows the subtlties of 'supporting role'. The lead women actors, Laura Morente(as the dancer of the title) and Alexandra Lancastre (as Bardem's wife), are as subtle as they are beautiful, making us believe in the inevitable proof of Bardem's human frailty as he forges his imperturable trail toward justice.The accompanying featurettes are involving conversations and commentaries by Nicholas Shakespeare (who actually lived in Lima, Peru while the 'Shining Path' revolution he describes actually was taking place), by John Malkovich regarding his choices of electing to cast his film with an entirely Spanish speaking crew yet speaking in English and for not naming the country or the particular timeframe of the story which he hopes will make the story more a parable than a docudrama, and by Javier Bardem who addresses the difficulties of keeping his character cerebral. And for once these features truly enhance the film's message.It is refreshing to know that movies of this caliber exist and that, hopefully, Malkovich will continue his brave stance as a director of consummate taste and subtlety. Highly Recommended, but be prepared to think."
Thoughtful Story of Political Violence in South America
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 09/30/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In an unnamed Latin American nation, random acts of violence have been shattering the countryside's peace for 5 years. For a while the incidents seemed unconnected and were blamed on a variety of activist organizations. Then dead dogs displaying signs proclaiming "Long Live Ezequiel" start turning up hanging from lampposts around the nation's capital. Detective Lieutenant Augustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) is given a team of 4 police officers and assigned the task of discovering Ezequiel's identity and dismantling his violent organization. But before he can make much progress, the organization assassinates a government minister. Fearing the beginnings of a revolution, the nation's president declares martial law. Although Rejas is permitted to continue with his investigation, any person his team investigates is taken into military custody and deprived of due process. Frustrated by the lack of justice in his professional life and with a wife with whom he has little in common at home, Rejas seeks the companionship of his daughter's ballet teacher, Yolanda (Laura Morante), a woman who seems at first to share his soulful nature."The Dancer Upstairs" is based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Shakespeare, who also wrote the film's screenplay. It is the first film directed by actor (and director of theater) John Malkovich. The film is timely in its depiction of terrorism as a socio-political force and military law as a purported protection from it. The extremely violent "Ezequiel" revolutionaries were obviously inspired by "The Shining Path" organization which terrorized Peru during the 1980s and 1990s. But "The Dancer Upstairs" is pretty light-handed with its socio-political statements. We see events unfold from the perspective of Augustin Rejas, who is a reluctant police officer, a man of no professional ambition who only wants to live in a just society. He is saddened by his president's paranoia and the nation's return to martial law. But his own decision-making isn't flawless. The film's pace might best be described as contemplative. It directly reflects Rejas' personality and the tempo of the countryside from which he came and with which he still has great affinity. The film meanders a bit and at times seems to have no clear direction. I don't believe this is a flaw though. The story is definitely moving toward its conclusion. It just isn't taking the direct route. This will probably rack the nerves of viewers who are expecting a traditional police drama. Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine has created some beautiful and painterly images. He contributes to the film's contemplative mood by pausing on these images long enough for us to take them in. I found a scene in which children carrying large posters scatter in the street at night to be especially beautiful and rather startling. I was grateful to Alcaine and to the film's editor for giving me enough time to look at it. John Malkovich has chosen a difficult adaptation for his directorial debut. "The Dancer Upstairs" has a kind of thematic and narrative obscurity that won't appeal to everyone. I found it to be a memorable film, though, and Javier Bardem is well-cast as the gentle and soulful police detective. The film's biggest fault is that the dialogue is occasionally difficult to understand. The cast is comprised entirely -and understandably- of Spanish and Latin American actors. But the film is in English. While some of the actors speak virtually accent-less English, others can be difficult to decipher."
An impressive debut with an original plot concept
JK | 05/19/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film has generated a lot of negative reviews by people who are blinded by their conception of "typical" plot structures.Important in this film is not the primary plot about a terrorist group starting a revolution in a Latin American nation, but about one man, the policeman hunting down the terrorist leader. Unlike a film like Se7en, in which the hunt is as enthralling as the personal struggle of the protaganist, thus giving the casual film goer their eye-candy, in this film the hunt serves only to illuminate the feelings Rejas. He is alienated from a corrupt system, alienated from his shallow wife, and he has found solace in the artistic purity of his daughter and her dance instructor.This film is not for someone looking for a taut political thriller or police cat-and-mouse game. It's a character study more like In the Bedroom than a police movie like Se7en.The cinematography is excellent, and the locations that Malkovich chose to shoot perfectly fit the mood of the film. The pacing is slow, and the only thing keeping it from dragging is the emotional intensity of Javier Bardem. Still, at almost two and a half hours, Malkovich could have cut the film by about twenty minutes."