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Movie Review: The Dancer Upstairs

Story: First time feature director John Malkevich has hit the ball out of the park. I loved this film. It is layered, textured, visually beautiful, interesting and hits a certain tone that is rarely seen on screen when dealing with what could easily have been a shoot'em up, chase the bad guy, political type thriller. It is based on Nicholas Shakespeare's novel about the hunt for and capture of Peru's Shining Path leader, Abimeal Guzman (Shakespeare also did this screenplay). With a name like that how could you be anything else but a writer?

The story itself is one we have seen before. But it is the treatment, the direction, the acting, the music and the cinematography that are all so extraordinary that the film rises to an artistic achievement rarely seen.

Be warned, the film is slow-paced and takes a little getting used to at first - but it is worth the effort. Bravo!

Acting: Javier Bardem has achieved the unthinkable. He has pushed my all time favorite Nick Nolte out of the number one spot to become my new favorite. Let's put it this way...if Bardem was on my speed dial -- he would be upped to the #1 spot. He is absolutely wonderful in this role. I adored him in Before Night Falls and he is as good, if not better, in this film as the lawyer turned policeman, Agustin Rejas. He is soulful, talented, extremely handsome and larger than life on the big screen. Everyone else in the cast was also fabulous. Each actor was generous to the other. I have to give Malkevich the credit for achieving that hard to find quality.

Predilections: I have great respect for John Malkevich as an actor and a thinker. I adore Javier Bardem (much more about him to follow).

Critters: Oh my! The dog population does not do well in this unnamed Latin American country. Bad things happen to dogs as they are used as symbols by the revolutionary terrorists. Fortunately, Malkevich was sensitive enough not to show actual harm being done to these innocent victims of revolution - so it is watchable.

Food: Not much food is shown or consumed. There's a revolution afoot. No time to eat.

Visual Art: Lots of black and white photography, children's art and colorful paintings.

Blatant Product Placement: Costa Gravas' State of Siege is viewed by the characters. I am sure he must be one of Malkevich's influences.

Soundtrack: Fabulous. The music enhances the mood of all of the scenes and the haunting voice of Nina Simone open and close the film.

Opening Titles: Stark black and white.

Theater Audience: The audience was sparse. I am not sure this film will have a great draw unless you have predilections like my movie buddy and I do.

Squirm Scale: The dogs as martyrs was squirmy.

Predictability Level: I was so involved in what was happening on screen I didn't even think about what was going to happen next.

Oscar Worthy: Absolutely!

Nit Picking: Not a nit in sight.

Big Screen or Rental: Big screen for sure. How about getting to know Javier Bardem with some of his past performances in such films as: Second Skin, Not Love, Just Frenzy, Dance With the Devil, The oh so fabulous - Before Night Falls, Live Flesh, Mouth to Mouth, Jamon Jamon, and High Heels.

Length: Ten minutes over the two hour Lobo rule. But I forgive those extra ten because it was extra time to watch Javier Bardem.