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"For the role of the Phantom we wanted somebody who has a bit of rock and roll sensibility in him. "  -Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer, The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
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Mysterious terrorists in a Latin American country are killing people and leaving oblique messages that refer to their leader Ezequiel. The all-too idealistic Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) is put in charge of the case by the ruthless junta with orders to identify and eliminate the secret little army, which is destabilising the regime. When he meets his daughter’s ballet teacher Yolande (Laura Morante), the decent and loyal husband Agustin begins to fall in love, while his target remains elusive. As he draws closer, with clues that are found in the most obscure places, Agustin is unaware of the impact his detective work will have on his own life. His confusion is greatest at the moment of his success, which even offers him a chance to be the next president – at a price he has to evaluate most carefully

Review by Louise Keller:
John Malkovich’s much awaited, controversial directing debut is a fascinating investigation and chase for a radical revolutionary. Based on Nicholas Shakespeare’s novel of the same intriguing name, The Dancer Upstairs paints a disturbing picture of corruption and violence, but even though many of the details are based on fact, the story is told as if it were fiction. 

It’s a tough film and leaves behind many images that are very distressing. Images of dead dogs suspended by lampposts, a chicken with a stick of dynamite tied to its leg, children suicide bombers and bloodied victims of bomb blasts and gunfire. But behind these haunting images comes a human story of an idealistic policeman (charismatically played by Javier Bardem) who is thrust in the alley to sniff out the tom cats. It’s no wonder that Bardem is considered to be Latin America’s answer to George Clooney: his handsome features and onscreen vulnerability are combined with assured toughness. (His English has also improved since his Oscar winning performance in Before Night Falls.) 

Shakespeare’s script takes us into a complex world, firmly establishing the characters and given them a wholeness and entity with which we can identify. Bardem’s Rejas is a devoted father and caring husband, although we can see at a glance that he and his self-obsessed wife have little in common. Her interests range from plastic surgery to playing tennis and her literary evenings. 

Just as Rejas is instinctively drawn to Yolande (Laura Morante is wonderful), so are we, and we can physically sense their connection. Shot in Spain, Ecuador and Portugal with a multi-national and fabulous cast, The Dancer Upstairs gives that wonderful sense of being there, and although the story is not a pretty one, we can’t wait to find out what happens next. Filled with tension and a genuine air of uncertainty, Malkovich has delivered a truly riveting film. It may trouble you, but you will feel well rewarded for taking the journey.

Published January 15, 2004

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CAST: Javier Bardem, Laura Morante, Juan Diego Botto, Elvira Minguez, Alexandra Lencastre, Oliver Cotton, Luis Miguel Cintra, Javier Manrique, Abel Folk

DIRECTOR: John Malkovich

SCRIPT: Nicholas Shakespeare (based on his novel)

RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: January 14, 2004

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