EIFF 2012: Shadow Dancer and Brave
Posted on Sunday July 1, 2012, 15:08 by Stephen Carty in Under The Radar
A slow-burning affair where there’s definitely more slow than burning, James Marsh’s IRA piece Shadow Dancer has shades of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy about it, in that we’re dealing with an arthouse-flavoured thriller that is equal parts low-key, serious-minded and, if truth be told, a little dour.
Best known for his recent documentaries Man On Wire and Project Nim, Marsh does bring a raw credibility and pervasive atmosphere to the screen that occasionally makes up for the lack of consistent thrills. The ingredients are all there for a cracking informant yarn, mind you, with the plot following Northern Irish woman Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) who has been an active member of the IRA ever since her younger brother was shot dead as a child. Flash-forward to the present day, and MI5 operative Mac (Clive Owen) recruits Colette as a reluctant informant, thus placing her in a position where she might have to implicate her family.
After opening with a flashback to Colette’s childhood, Marsh presents us with a sequence where she tries to leave a bomb in the London underground. Long, unhurried and wordless, this scene pretty much tells you what to expect from Shadow Dancer as a whole. Certainly the cast is great, with faces like Aidan Gillen and Gillian Anderson slotted into key roles, but their good work is slightly undone by character work, which is a tad underwritten.
To an extent, Riseborough also suffers from the same problem, while Owen makes the most of another world-weary Clive Owen-y type part. Importantly, if all this is making Shadow Dancer sound like a dull flop, it’s not meant to. The ‘problem’ with it (in that there is a problem) is that it’s just not as thrilling as you want it to be, and the end result is a tad underwhelming. All that being true, it is still a well-crafted and often tense informant drama, which will likely please viewers who like their slow-burners to be slow and with very little burning. Mainstream audiences, however? I’m not so sure.
While perhaps not in-keeping with this year’s largely arthouse-orientated feel, Disney-Pixar’s Brave (cast pictured above) offered a thoroughly entertaining close to the 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival. Though ultimately not as innovative or ground-breaking as we’ve ungratefully come to expect from the animation studio (there’s nothing here to rival the heartbreaking opening of Up or the wordless first act of WALL-E), it’s another satisfyingly enjoyable entry to add to their consistently impressive body of work.
As is always the case with Pixar, one of the key reasons for this is that story and character remain at the forefront at all times. Brave (formerly titled The Bear And The Bow), as you no doubt already know, is a folksy fairy tale that takes place in the highlands of medieval Scotland. It follows the feisty tomboy Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who’d rather ride around on her horse firing arrows than become the prim and proper ‘lady’ that her mother, Queen Eleanor (Emma Thompson), would like her to be. As her father (Billy Connolly) is King, Merida is betrothed to one of the local lords’ (Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson) heirs in order to keep peace across the kingdom, an arrangement she’ll do anything to avoid.
It’s at this stage where Brave veers off into slightly unexpected (and potentially polarising) territory. In order to avoid spoilers, it’s difficult to fully discuss this plot detour further without revealing what actually happens, suffice to say that Merida makes a deal with a witch (Julie Winters) that then goes – yup, you guessed it - awry. Though the movie is laced with fantasy and magic, this development might initially take you by surprise (it was purposefully kept out of the trailers) in the way that it actually becomes the thrust of the narrative, but yet it’s handled in such a way that it often feeds nicely into what is essentially a mother-daughter story.
Arguably, there’s too much knockabout, bumping-into-things comedy after the aforementioned plot development and the climactic resolution would have impacted more had it been easier to sympathise with the Queen (looking back from enlightened times, Merida is absolutely right to choose her own life path) – but these niggles don’t detract too much from the overall. Plus, the core of Brave is equally as concerned with fighting against conformity and choosing your own path in life (those old chestnuts) as it is with mummy issues. Occasionally, the message and moral lessons are delivered in a way that perhaps is a touch too on-the-nose, but it’s hard to argue that the overall effect doesn’t deliver a few genuinely emotional moments.
Of course, many feared the worst when director Brenda Chapman left the project due to creative differences (causing Pixar alum Mark Andrews to step in), but the end result is another pleasing – if more solid than incredible – addition to their collection. Boring nit-pickers will boringly nit-pick around historical inaccuracies (ie, they didn’t use certain words back then) and the amount of Scottish clichés on hand, but it’s all in good fun. Plus, the inherent Scottishness is part of Brave’s DNA (there’s a nice running joke concerning accents from Kevin McKidd’s incomprehensible heir), while the animation is gorgeous as usual (another thing we take for granted). Merida’s hair alone, all curly, carrot-toned locks, deserves a mention in the credits.
But no review of Brave would be complete without a word on its beautiful preceding short, La Luna. The very definition of lovely, it’s a gorgeous aperitif which proves once again – as if proof were needed – that Pixar can tell a better story in less than ten minutes using no words than most normal movies can manage outright. Spellbinding.