A brilliantly directed political thriller, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS nevertheless suffers from script problems that limit its appeal and result in moral confusion.
Javier Bardem stars as Agustin Rejas, a lawyer turned policeman who’s assigned by his capricious boss to investigate a mysterious terrorist calling himself Ezequiel, in a confused homage to the biblical prophet. The terrorist has committed a series of political murders in the countryside and is now threatening the capital city, which is full of corrupt government officials and degenerate international diplomats. A favorite modus operandi of Ezequiel is to string up dogs wired with explosives and attached to signs filled with fascist and Communist slogans, and obtuse philosophical references.
As Rejas follows the terrorist’s trail, he becomes attracted to his daughter’s ballet teacher, Yolanda, even though he’s married. Yolanda rebuffs his advances, telling Rejas that their circumstances and lifestyles prevent them from ever being together. Rejas eventually accepts her judgment. He represses his lust for her, but not his affection.
Rejas closes in on the terrorist and his comings and goings. The trail leads to Yolanda’s rented room above her own living quarters. Perhaps, there is more to Yolanda than meets the eye.
THE DANCER UPSTAIRS is based on a novel by Nicholas Shakespeare that is, in turn, based on the true capture of the founder of Shining Path, Peru’s infamous Communist terrorist group. Though based on fact, the ending of the movie, especially when Yolanda’s character drastically changes direction, is not convincing. Furthermore, although Rejas’s young partner makes an appropriate judgment on the immoral character of the terrorist leader, the movie almost absolves Yolanda for her role in the terrorist’s murderous Communist rampage. Thus, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS settles for psychological ambiguity rather than moral clarity. The movie’s final scene, however, shows Rejas sharing a joyful moment with his young daughter, and briefly his wife, which nearly redeems the immoral aspects of the ending.
Despite the problems above, actor John Malkovich, in his first directorial effort, does a brilliant job of following the characters with his camera and conveying the right atmosphere in most scenes. He has clearly benefited from his years of superb acting and from his years of stage directing. His directing fails him only when he decides to opt for psychological ambiguity as opposed to moral clarity, a professional failing to which many talented Hollywood actors and artists succumb.
In addition to the moral ambiguity in the movie, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS also contains plenty of strong foul language, an adulterous kiss between the married cop and the ballet dancer, very strong violence (including disturbing, but not gory, shots of dead animal bodies and a burnt corpse), and a nude shot of Yolanda alone in her shower. All of these things make this movie acceptable only for adults, with extreme caution.
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(B, Co, Ab, LLL, VVV, S, NN, A, D, M) Moral worldview with South American policeman facing struggles between government corruption and leftist political terrorism with Communist revolutionary slogans, and the lack of moral clarity mars story's ending is but slightly redeemed by final scene showing father's connection to his young daughter; 23 mostly strong obscenities, five strong profanities and two light profanities; very strong violence includes dead dogs wired with explosives, live animals tied to lit dynamite, explosions, gunplay, young girl bleeds to death with her face and chest all bloody, image of young boy's burnt corpse, terrorism, priest murdered; smoldering adulterous lust not consummated and married man passionately kisses unmarried woman and holds her when she becomes hysterical; upper female nudity and rear nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, government corruption and policeman takes bribe.
GENRE: Political Thriller