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Pick of the Week: “The Dancer Upstairs” DVD

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


“The Dancer Upstairs” is an adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare’s novel of the same name inspired by the search for the head of the terrorist group known as the Shining Path in Peru. The movie is in English and marks the directorial debut of John Malkovich, although he remains behind the camera.

I love the evocative, noirish mood of this drama/thriller, which takes place in an unnamed Latin American country. Javier Bardem stars as Agustin Rejas, a police official trying to track down a Marxist terrorist whose brutal acts are destabilizing the country. I was particularly impressed by Bardem’s sensitive, underplayed performance. For me, much of this film’s subtle power comes from the way it shows the fragility of civilization and how a small number of terrorists can topple the delicate balance that holds society together.

Rejas’ job is made even more difficult than it might be elsewhere because of the corruption within the government. Still, he has little choice but to try to stop the terrorism while working within the system. Along the way, he becomes romantically involved with his daughter’s lovely dance teacher (Laura Morante), and this ultimately leads him to make an important decision.

What I like about the movie is the way it mixes the personal with the political, showing what was at stake both for Rejas as a man and for his country.

This is not a fast-moving, pulpy thriller, but one that’s more literary and thoughtful in nature. Roughly speaking, this is Graham Greene and John Le Carré territory. I liked the way the movie took its time and has lots of shots of Javier Bardem’s expressive, intelligent face.

This film’s budget was not large, yet the production values are high. The movie was shot in four different countries, including Ecuador and Portugal, but the fictional Latin American capital looked convincing to me.

The DVD comes with several special features, and I have listed them below.

Selected Special Features on the DVD:

  • Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
  • English 5.1 Dolby Surround
  • French Dolby Surround
  • Spanish Dolby Surround
  • English Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Audio Commentary by Director John Malkovich and Actor Javier Bardem
  • Sundance Channel’s 24-Frame News – Journeys With John Malkovich
  • Revealing the Dancer Upstairs (Making-Of Featurette)
  • Theatrical Trailer

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