John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with this political
melodrama/love story adapted by Nicholas Shakespeare from his own novel which
fictionalized the 12-year chase and eventual capture of Abimael Guzman, the
charismatic leader of Peru's violent Shining Path terrorists.
Set in the recent past in an unnamed South American country, the film
stars Spanish actor Javier Bardem (Oscar-nominated for "Before Night Falls") as
Augustin Rejas, a highly principled lawyer-turned-police detective who - with
his sidekick Sucre (Juan Diego Botto) - is after a mysterious revolutionary
responsible for political assassinations, car bombings, gruesome massacres and
hanging dogs from light poles. Calling himself Ezequiel (Abel Folk), this
criminal believes he's the next Communist prophet after Marx, Lenin and Mao.
Like his predecessors, Ezequiel's heavily into bizarre political slogans, like
"When I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my pistol" and "Guns make us
powerful. Butter will only make us fat." And as the guerrilla warfare escalates,
the president is ready to declare martial law in the next two weeks.
In the midst of this revolution and perhaps because of his own shaky
marriage (his wife is into "The Bridges of Madison County" with her book group),
Rejas finds temporary distraction in his 10 year-old daughter's sensual ballet
teacher, Yolanda (Italian actress Laura Morante).
Malkovich obviously has been influenced by Costa-Gavras' "State of Siege,"
but he is unable to grasp that director's use of tension. Instead, the plot is
elusive and the slow pace plods despite Jose Luis Alcaine's photography and the
music of Alberto Iglesias and Pedro Malgheas. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to
10, "The Dancer Upstairs" is a glum, grim 6. It's a murky manhunt.
Copyright © 2003 Susan Granger