The Dancer Upstairs (May 2/03)
After watching The Dancer Upstairs - which plays like a Costa-Gavras film crossed with a sappy love story - it was hardly a surprise to discover that neophyte director John Malkovich once worked with that well-known political filmmaker. Malkovich has crafted a film that is steeped in the politics of rebellion and upheaval - but the inclusion of a silly romance subplot proves to be The Dancer Upstairs' undoing.
Javier Bardem stars as Rejas, a cop in an unnamed Latin America city that's been assigned the task of tracking down a political dissident named Ezequiel who seems to be setting the stage for a violent revolution. Politicians and prominent local figures are turning up dead, and the city's streets are being lined with the corpses of dogs. Rejas assembles a team to help with the investigation, and the majority of the film follows their efforts to catch whoever's responsible. But there's also a storyline featuring Rejas and his infatuation with his daughter's dance teacher, a woman named Yolanda (Laura Morante). Though Rejas seems to be happily married, he can't resist pursuing Yolanda amidst the chaos.
The Dancer Upstairs contains a fairly decent opening half hour or so, with the introduction of Ezequiel's deadly methods (one such method, including a small boy and an explosive, is particularly shocking), but it's essentially all downhill from there. Aside from Rejas' police investigation, there's not much in the film that's of any interest. Though Malkovich does a nice job in establishing the look and feel of this country, his lack of restraint in trimming the story's excesses is what ultimately turns the film into an overlong bore. Had he jettisoned the romance subplot and tightened the police stuff, there's no doubt The Dancer Upstairs could've been as electrifying as some of Costa-Gavras' work.