The Dancer Upstairs
Time Out saysBased on Nicholas Shakespeare's novel about the Peruvian police-hunt for the Shining Path guerillas, Malkovich's directorial debut glosses the historical specifics in favour of a more idiosyncratic, personal focus. It begins improbably with a long radio interview: Nina Simone talking about how it's a mistake to try to give people what they want - a clear signal that this will be an authored film, not a routine police thriller (and possibly not what people want). Agustin Rejas (Bardem), the last honest cop in the country, is charged with tracking down Ezequiel, mastermind of the long-running terrorist insurgency. The case drags on for months, and as the revolutionary terror heats up, the cops' civil authority is superseded by a military crackdown. Rejas keeps striving, bound by duty and integrity, to stop the killing, even if he's sensitive to the social injustice that fuels the guerillas. As the net closes, the film is good on operational process - a trawl of rubbish bins for tell-tale dermatological ointment packets has something of The French Connection about it - but Malkovich is as much concerned with soul-searching as attributing guilt. The tentative love story involving the titular dancer (Morante) is too convenient for words, but Bardem is nothing short of magnificent - introspective, painfully compromised, but still with much to prove.