James Marsh is a heralded documentary filmmaker with Wisconsin Death Trip, Man on Wire, and Project Nim to his credit. He’s also an apt dramatist with the underrated The King and Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980, the best film of that trilogy. His new Belfast-set IRA thriller Shadow Dancer is effective, especially since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy just proved that slow-burning story mechanics are better than chases, explosions, and shouted exposition. Andrea Riseborough stars as Collette McVeigh, a single mother and active member of the IRA who turns informant for MI5 after an aborted bombing attempt in the London subway system. She falls into the noble hands of Clive Owen‘s mid-level agent, who lays out her ultimatum. Despite bouts of unoriginal dialogue and overt symbolism (Riseborough wears a red trench in almost every scene after she turns mole), traces of familiarity end there. Even Owen’s superior, Gillian Anderson, misinterprets his effort to protect Collette as he goes a bit rogue once he realizes a second, more entrenched informant is in the mix. There are two nice twists at the end, one of them ambiguous.
Room 237 is billed as a “subjective documentary” on hidden meanings in the film version of The Shining. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser for people who think the world will end this year, or those who have played Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Interviewees offer up a series of insights that blur the line between credibility and fanaticism, but director Rodney Ascher, who also edited his work, knows how to respect his cast while entertaining his audience. The notion that Stanley Kubrick created the film as a way of dealing with his feelings about the Holocaust and American imperialism are viable, while some people take what can only be continuity errors to another level of our obsessive search for meaning. More than anything, the documentary is a testament to Ascher’s editing skills, as he recontextualizes footage from Kubrick’s oeuvre with a deft hand. I’m unsure if his work will be picked up for theatrical release, but I think a long shelf life awaits.