Dancer Upstairs, The

1 bone dogRATED: R
Stars: Javier Bardem, Laura Morante, Juan Diego Botto, Elvira Minguez
Director: John Malkovich
Screenwriter: Nicholas Shakespeare, based on his novel

Technically efficient, with sleek direction accompanied by masterful music, John Malkovich’s talented directing debut is lost on a murky story that purports to be a thriller but is anything but thrilling – mildly interesting, occasionally confusing is more like it.

The Dancer Upstairs is set in an unnamed Latin American country during the 1980s and follows an upstanding police officer named Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) on the trail of Ezequiel (Abel Folk), a revolutionary responsible for assassinations and dog killings. Shakespeare’s story is based on the real-life 12-year pursuit for the commander of Peru’s notorious Shining Path guerilla organization.

There are a few bombings and lots of dead dogs strung up on lampposts, but very little else actually happens as Rejas leads the investigation into discovering who is carrying out the murders and why. Since it takes place over such a long period of time, all it seems Shakespeare could do to up the ante is to involve Rejas in a tentative affair with his young daughter’s ballet instructor, Yolanda (Laura Morante), while his vain wife pops off shopping or performs literature readings to a small group of like-minded women.

The ending is anticlimactic and wholly dissatisfying when it comes to his relationship with Yolanda.

Lotta says: Worth seeing only for Bardem’s excellent and subtle portrayal of Reyas. Audio difficult to discern; listen carefully otherwise be prepared to be even more confused. Rated R – for strong violence, and for language. By the way — why didn’t the studio feature the star Javier Bardem (who previously starred in Before Night Falls that Americans would have been familiar with) in the press photo you see above?