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THE DANCER UPSTAIRS

Review by Chastity Campbell

Starring: Javier Bardem, Laura Morante, Juan Diego Botto, Elvira MŪnguez, Alexandra Lencastre, Oliver Cotton, Luis Miguel Cintra, and Javier Manrique
Director: John Malkovich
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2003

Film ***

The Dancer Upstairs will do more than entertain you for a few hours.  This movie will wrap its tendrils around you and hold on tight all the way through until the very end, and by that time you will have come to realize that this experience is not something that will ever leave your mind.

John Malkovich weaves a truly hypnotic and magical web around you with his version of Nicholas Shakespeareís ďThe Dancer Upstairs.Ē  After listening to Malkovichís commentary track, I could clearly see in my mindís eye how passionate his approach to this film was.  Even though this is his first time in the directorís seat, he was able to take the smallest of gestures and details to paint this dark story in vivid mental colors. 

The Dancer Upstairs is set in Latin America, during the recent past.  No time frame to reference in this film, which allows you to expand your mind around the endless possibilities that such a deep thinking movie evokes. 

The story follows a straight and narrow policeman Agustin Rejas played by Academy Award Nominee Javier Bardem as he attempts to apprehend the leader of a terrorist movement that is threatening to overthrow the current government through murder and hate crimes.

Corruption in the government hinders his investigation, as the terroristís ideas continue to gain ground rapidly among the citizens.   Itís an uphill battle that will take all of the cunning, and strategizing this former Lawyer turned Policeman has, to find and capture the rebel leader Ezequiel.

Bardemís character has a really interesting contemplative nature about him.  Combine that with a healthy dose of honesty and goodness (something Hollywood has been lacking as of late), and you have someone you can get behind and root for as a leading man.    

Despite the fact that there is a possible revolution going on, and his wife would surely kill him if she found out, Rejas falls in love with his daughterís ballet teacher played by the beautiful and talented Laura Morante.  You can see that in his heart he knows itís wrong, yet he is drawn to her like a moth to the flame.  Shouldnít his instincts as a police officer kick in and warn him all is not right where the dancerís concerned?

Iím not entirely familiar with the works of Laura Morante.  I can say that her portrayal of the mysterious and exotic dance instructor Yolanda was breathtaking.  She will wind you in with her smile, and capture you with her laughter, just as she does the easy going Rejas.  Donít be fooled, for she, too, has her part to play, which is one of the many things about this film that helps to make it shine.

There is a scene in this movie that I will label as one of the most disturbing scenes in cinema history for me personally.  The events depicted in this movie are disturbingly similar to current situations around the world today.  In a time where terrorism is in the news on a daily basis, I can understand why some people would find this movie hard to watch.  However, if you can get past that aspect of this film and focus on the main character and his struggle to push through all the layers of society and life that are hindering his progression as a person and individual, then you will find a film that is definitely worth taking the time to see.  

I have to mention the men and women who made up the supporting cast of characters for this film.  From Rejas hyper and horny partner, to his sweet and innocent daughter, you will find they all help to propel this film along with a smooth and easy rhythm.

I will say that this is not a family friendly movie, and the kids should probably be tucked away in bed before you ever go near the play button.  I do believe, however, that once you are able to sit back and digest everything this DVD has to offer, you will definitely not be disappointed.

Video ***

Wide-open direct line shots help to frame this film in a way unlike any Iíve seen before.  The directorís use of cooler colors and deep shadows illuminates the images on this DVD in a way that helps make the viewer feel as though they are a part of the film.

The DVD is formatted with a 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer that is a bit intentionally dirty.   To create certain realities itís often necessary to use the natural dirt and graininess of a film to help things along.  I think this film has a late 70ís early 80ís appeal that wonít be lost on the viewer. 

Audio ***

With beautifully balanced music beds and lively sound effects, this DVD was an extremely nice audio experience.

The soundtrack resonated beautifully in the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix on this DVD.   The dialogue was balanced well in combination with sound effects and music beds.  Long stretches of silence were at times punctuated with a little bit of white noise, but otherwise a very clean and well balanced mix.

The one and only real problem I had with this DVDís audio was the actors themselves when voicing their lines.  Some accents were very thick while others were barely there, and when people start talking to each other very fast, you might get lost as to what they are saying.  

Utilizing the English subtitles from this DVDís audio features might be something youíll want to try.

Features ***

This DVDís features flowed like a ballerina across the floor.  Okay, bad punÖon to the features!

There is an audio commentary track which features director John Malkovich and Javier Bardem, the filmís star.  I really enjoyed listening to Malkovich go into detail about this film for which he obviously feels very passionate.

There is a special feature titled ďSundance Channels 24 Frame News: Journeys with John Malkovich.Ē  This is a really quick look at John Malkovich, and a few of the things that were going on in his head while making this film.

ďRevealing The Dancer Upstairs,Ē is a very informative featurette that will educate you on this movie and the hard work that went into it.  You will also get some key details about specific characters and what went into making them so unforgettable.

Two theatrical trailers for The Dancer Upstairs are included, along with language options in English, Spanish, and French.   Subtitles are also available in English, and Spanish for those of us who have a hard time with accents.

Interactive menus will allow you to easily float from one feature to the next on your journey to unlocking this DVDís extras!

Summary:

The Dancer Upstairs is an absolutely wonderful movie.  The pacing will leave you wishing you could speed up time and find out what happens, and in the same breath youíll beg for time to slow so you can continue enjoying this disc.   The extra features are nice, and if you give this disc a spin around the floor, I have a feeling you wonít be disappointed.