Star Rating:

Shadow Dancer

Actors: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 101 minutes

From the director of Man On Wire, Shadow Dancer has a slow-burning power and a rising dread that makes for tense viewing.

As Albert Reynolds and John Major work to make the peace process a reality, it's as you were for the IRA. Single mother Colette McVeigh (Riseborough) is on the London tube with an explosive in her handbag, but something clicks in her head - she wants out. Dumping her bag, she makes a run for it but is caught by the tailing MI5. Mac (Owen) is in charge of her case and presents a deal that she can't turn down: turn informant or spend the next twenty years in an English jail. Colette opts for the former and sets about spying on her family's – brothers Domhnall Gleason and Aidan Gillen - activities, as well as the crew of David Wilmot's cold psychotic.

It might rank high on the familiarity charts - 50 Dead Men Walking is only a few years old - but James Marsh, working from Tom Bradby's novel (Bradby adapated the script himself), easily avoids any predictability that might crop up by working hard to allow the audience to lose themselves in the moment. We're expecting a scene with Riseborough on the phone as Martin McCann's killer comes up the stairs to hear a snippet of her coded message, and we're expecting Riseborough to bluff her way out of it, and we get them, but writer and director combine to create a tense atmosphere where anything could happen.

Marsh hasn't made drama for the cinema since 2005's The King but those who have seen that little gem will remember the director's knack of wringing every ounce of tension from his scenes, and he does it effortlessly. Although the tension here is turned down, almost muted, it adds to the reality of it all. It's all suggestion: One scene sees Riseborough taken for questioning by Wilmot and his crew, while in the next room a nameless gunman produces a gun from a hiding place and sets about laying plastic sheeting on the ground.

Of course it's not all Marsh - he has Bradby's tight script and a cast on top form. Riseborough exudes strength behind that pale face and frail form while Owen works hard to make the whiff of sexuality between him and Riseborough work without it leaning over into ridiculous. We could have used more Michael McElhatton (a rule of thumb when it comes to casting is more McElhatton is good McElhatton) and Gillen, though, who are side-lined somewhat.