The Dancer Upstairs | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Dancer Upstairs


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John Malkovich makes his cinematic directorial debut with this fine political thriller about a police detective in an unnamed Latin American country who's charged with tracking down the charismatic leader of a terrorist group (based on Abimael Guzman of the Shining Path in Peru) as the president prepares to declare martial law. Handsome Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls) gives a remarkably focused performance as the cop, who's stuck in an unhappy marriage to a shallow middle-class woman, haunted by boyhood memories of the military seizing his father's coffee farm, and tormented by a guilty passion for his young daughter's earthy dance teacher (Italian actress Laura Morante). Adapted by Nicholas Shakespeare from his novel, the movie is studded with terrorist attacks, many of them perpetrated by children and teenagers, which can't have done much for the picture's marketability. Yet Malkovich never exploits these for action-movie thrills: in each instance the loss of life is terrible and the morality of the act is left treacherously ambiguous. 128 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Esquire, Landmark's Century Centre.

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