John Malkovich's directorial debut manages to be exactly how you would imagine a John Malkovich directed film to be. We've grown to know and love the studious actors screen presence, his craftsmanship, his sublime timing and all these attributes are carried over to his performance behind the camera.
The film follows idealistic policeman Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) as he faces the challenge of hunting the mysterious guerrilla leader Ezequiel, the brains behind the bloody revolution that threatens to bring the government and entire country down. In the midst of violence growing and corruption surrounding him Rejas begins a romantic liason with his daughters dance teacher Yolanda. The relationship becomes an oasis from the growing pressures of his investigation but Yolanda (Laura Morante) turns out to be at the very heart of Rejas's investigation.
The film, set in Latin America with a Latin American cast allows this debut to side-step unfair comparisons and value judgements which may have been levelled at Malkovich, had he made his premier directors job with Hollywood regulars. The film is beautifully structured and paced and Malkovich manages to achieve a reflective and contemplative tone to the film, a welcome respite from the dumb onslaught of Hollywood's regular fare. The film is still gripping and taught as we are witness to the unfolding hunt for the impressively threatening Ezequiel. Rejas faces institutional corruption and the introduction of martial law, both of which hamper his investigations but his natural resourcefulness and professionalism as a policeman see him close in on the elusive revolutionary leader.
The Dancer Upstairs is an impressive but not entirely suprising debut from Malkovich could you imagine him not being good as a director? A film that is deeply satisfying as a piece of craftsmanship whilst at the same time delivering the goods as a powerful and fulfilling drama, The Dancer Upstairs is a well balanced and moving film.
Go and see it if you long to have a nourishing cinematic experience.