John Malkovich starts off his directorial debut with The Dancer Upstairs, a drama-suspense-romance about a revolution going on in Latin America. Unfortunately, it is one of the worst movies of 2003.
Javier Bardem, who was nominated for an Oscar for Before Night Falls, stars as Agustin Rejas, a police officer who is tracking a revolutionary terrorist in an unknown country and who falls in love with his daughter's ballet teacher, for some unknown reason. The movie is a mix of terrorism, drama and romance, yet none of the elements are done very well. Bardem, who was the only shining light in the drab Before Night Falls, does a better job blending in here. That is not a compliment. While there is nothing spectacularly bad about his performance here, there is nothing spectacularly good, either. His character has little life.
From every aspect, The Dancer Upstairs is just a dreadfully boring movie, cluttered and confusing, yet simple and obvious. The premise is interesting, but Malkovich does very little to enact any kind of suspense out of the film; it appears as though he was angling for a powerful drama but just ends up with melodrama. In some more exciting scenes, where he should have gone in close for the action, he instead decides to shoot many moments from afar, to get the "grandeur" of the moment. The approach fails.
In fact, Malkovich's direction in the movie is just sloppy, unexciting and uninteresting. The slow story is nothing to scream about, but Malkovich seems to have done nothing to smooth out the edges.
To make matters worse, the plot developments are strangely confusing. It is not that The Dancer Upstairs is a complicated movie - it is unfortunately very basic - but Malkovich never shows or explains how the cops get from point A to point B. Many times it seems as though the main characters show up at a place where the terrorist is supposed to be without explaining how they figured out to get there. Perhaps I was just too bored to pay attention.
The Dancer Upstairs is unfortunately a terrible movie, so bad in fact that next time Malkovich directs a movie, I will surely think twice. Great actors do not necessarily make good directors.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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