Although recent events have led many people in this country to believe that terrorism is the sort of calamity that can be wiped out by invading select countries in the Middle East, the dramatic events portrayed in The Dancer Upstairs remind us that violence and terror exist on a daily basis in poor nations around the world. But rather than serve as a political statement or a docudrama on social uprisings in Latin America (where the movie is set), this directorial debut from acclaimed actor John Malkovich presents a calculated, thoughtful character study of a police inspector who is unsure of his duty to the world and to himself. The result is a film that does not force you into sorrow or bliss or any other cathartic extreme, yet manages to remain ultimately memorable.

To set the tone, Malkovich begins by taking us on a long truck ride through the mountains of South America. The countryside is beautiful and we are treated to long, wide-angle shots of the truck weaving its way along the base of snow-capped peaks. The passengers listen quietly to a broadcast of Nina Simone babbling to an audience as she prepares to sing her next song. Everyone seems calm, if not peaceful. And then, without a word, the driver guns the engine and slams the vehicle into a policeman standing at a hillside checkpoint. It's this sort of unexpected violence that returns again and again during the first half of the movie. Children blow up their fathers, cars careen into restaurants, politicians are executed on stage in theaters. And, as Inspector Rejas (Javier Bardem) soon learns, these are just the early signs of what could end up being a much bloodier revolution for the impoverished country.

Continue reading: The Dancer Upstairs Review