Movie Review: The Dancer Upstairs

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
What is it really like "being a John Malkovich"? A bird's eye view of the actor turned filmmaker reveals several anatomical features. Looking for these in John's recent directorial debut The Dancer Upstairs is easy: the film is slow, its pretentious, it has all the right ingredients but the packaging is all wrong.
The superb Javier Bardem plays a low key cop named Augustin Rejas, re-appraising his line of work when put on a high risk assignment to find a terrorist with a political following. The classy and gifted Italian actress Laura Morante, plays a dance teacher, the one upstairs. Their interaction orchestrated by Malkovich seriously lacks chemistry. The film should be interesting, a political thriller set in a Latin American country with a prophetic and renegade intellectual terrorist named "Ezequiel" that kills animals, straps dynamite to children and creates general havoc. Its difficult to pinpoint exactly why The Dancer Upstairs doesn't work but its abundantly clear that Malkovich seems to have purchased the screen rights for a potentially slick film project like he would a painting or sculpture. The film has the feel of a European art film. Emanating from a highly intellectual family and hometown Benton, Illinois Malkovich, does not mind revealing that he prefers his present domicile in France.
The subject of violent terrorism is certainly timely and shows that people will do anything for a cause they believe in. But the pace of the film and its elaborate developments fall short of moving us -- and it's long, over two hours. The fictional world of The Dancer Upstairs is not captivating enough although the film as a whole is interesting with moments of clarity. However, with its art house decor it glamorizes violence without really motivating the issues that arouse Ezequial and his followers, and their connection to the revolutionary chaos of the country. Essentially Malchovich's film seems to be a fantasy of political turmoil and done with such distance and lack of commitment that it is hard to take it serious.

More Information:
The Dancer Upstairs
Spain, USA 2002