The Dancer Upstairs


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The Dancer Upstairs
The Masked Reviewer


The title gives away the subject of this film, directed by the man whose head everyone likes to be in, John Malkovich.  That's right, this film is all about terrorism.  It's based on a novel by Nicholas Shakespeare (no relation to Eddie Shakespeare).  Originally this film was going to be released a couple of years ago, but the real-life terrorism of 9/11 caused a delay.  There must have been some people in Hollywood who thought "Hey, terrorist attacks...that'll help the box office for The Dancer Upstairs!" but those Hollywood people were probably shunned by show business and forced to go work at Fox.

The film is intriguing.  It feels like a thriller, like The Usual Suspects, although the suspense it generates is quite different.  It's an interesting portrait of terrorism and how small terrorist acts can affect the mentality and actions of an entire country.  It is timely, to be sure.  Terrorism, revolution, big government, corruption, and martial law are all tackled in this film. 

The main character is played by Javier Bardem, who gives a great performance.  We learn a lot about his character in terms of his relationship with the government and with his own family.  That's nice.

Aside from the interesting political and social issues that revolve around a terrorist plot, the film lacks a real climax.  The suspense is lessened by the fact that we know who the Big Evil Terrorist is at the beginning of the film, and the title of the film kills any big revelation at the end.  What's left is somewhat different from similar films...we follow a police investigation, but it's not a mystery.  The film is the journey, like peeling away the layers of an onion.

Unfortunately, all this onion peeling will undoubtedly leave many viewers crying.  It's an artsy film, and though it's well crafted and deals with interesting issues, it does require a lot of concentration.  You shouldn't go to this expecting a suspenseful mystery story.  It's deep and thoughtful...not the best choice if you want to kick back and vegetate.  It does make you think about a number of issues, and sometimes that's a good thing.

The actors in the film, which takes place in some unnamed Latin American country, all have Hispanic accents.  Why is that?  Does it make the film more realistic if everyone speaks with an accent?  If they're all from Peru and are all in Peru, wouldn't they be speaking Spanish?  Do people from Peru speak Spanish?  Even stranger is the fact that when they need to speak the local Latin American Indian language, they do, with English subtitles!  Why don't those native folks speak English with accents? 

In regards to that, John Malkovich said "it always seemed strange to me that you have a film about a famous Austrian composer, and everyone sounds like they're from the same mall in the San Fernando Valley."  Right.  So he hired actors from Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, and England.  The Masked Reviewer supposes that if Malkovich ever does a film on a famous Austrian composer, it will star actors from Germany, Switzerland, Iceland, and Greece, but they'll be speaking English with German accents...for that authentic feel.

On a more serious note, the accents may give some viewers problems.  Many lines are hard to understand if you're not familiar with the particular accents.  Or is it dialects?  Either way, several lines are hard to discern.

Malkovich appears in the film, briefly, in a crowd, with his back turned.  This is mentioned for those of your who get dragged to the film unwillingly ("But I'd rather see The Matrix Reloaded again!") and who are bored out of your minds.  You can play "find the Malkovich."  Have fun.

The plot of the film does have a few...shall we say..."thin" twists.  Whatever fictional country they're in must border on Coincidentia.  Our hero has unbelievable links to many people in this film.  In addition to having bumped into a character early in the film which leads to an important discovery, the main character was an altar boy for a priest who leads him to an important discovery, he recognizes someone's bible in a videotape that leads him to an important discovery, and his daughter's ballet teacher turns leads him to...well, you get the idea.  If there are only 15 people in this fictional country, this seems plausible.

Animal lovers should be warned...there are some dead animals shown hanging from things.  It happens a few times.  Many in the audience seemed greatly disturbed by these images.  Considering that the film was shot overseas, it's hard to tell if they were real dead animals, or fake dead animals.  Hmm.  Low budget.   No ASPCA.  "It's $5000 for a hand-made replica of a dead animal, or we can pull one out of the gutter over there for nothing."  Who knows?  In addition, several audience members were horrified at other animal related images, like a dog tied to an ignited stick of dynamite.  The Masked Reviewer is pretty sure that it wasn't real dynamite, but those people that can't stomach visions of animal cruelty should steer clear.  The Masked Reviewer doesn't remember any such offended gasps during Schindler's List, but that's supposes.

Overall, an interesting portrayal of a man, terrorism, and how a nation responds.  May be too deep for some.  It could have withstood some better editing to trim it down from just over two hours to about an hour and a's too long, and even though it is interesting, it drags a bit.  You wouldn't think a movie with so many dead animals could drag, but John Malkovich is a visionary.

This is without a doubt the best film dealing with South American politics since Evita


Expectation from the Title: One man.  A broom.  Lot's of whacking the ceiling with the broom.  "Will you keep it down up there?  Thump thump thump!  I'm trying to sleep here!" 

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  The mountains in the background were very pretty.

The Pros: Interesting...has that word been used enough yet?  Timely topics that make you think.  Javier Bardem is great.  Brief nudity.

The Cons: A bit slow and long for many people.  Requires concentration.  Accents sometimes hard to understand.  Animal lovers may not like some of the visuals. 


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