Opening in 1970s Belfast, a young Colette McVeigh ignores her father's request to go to the store and instead sends her brother. Within minutes, he returns shot, surrounded by his family and Colette is forced from the room by her father's icy gaze. Some twenty years later, we find her (Andrea Riseborough), fidgeting with her purse on the London subway system. It only takes a second to realize this is a bomb, as men in leather jackets with newspapers constantly hover around her. When she does finally leave the bag and run, escaping through a series of tunnels and back onto the street, she's quietly picked up and left in a hotel room as Mac (Clive Owen) watches her from the next room. In classic spook fashion he has two things to tell her: he has proof that her brother was killed using a supposed Irish Republican Army bullet and he wants her become his informer about the local cells. Or else, she'll never see her son ever again and go to jail in England as a terrorist.
Coming from Tom Bradby's script, the conversations and intrigue unfold and disassemble the roles of each character like in his original novel. Owen is his usual steely eyed self until he's left out of an upcoming meeting to completely demolish the McVeigh cell. Once he learns there's another asset, all of the usual cool and bravado he oozes turns to horror. James Marsh takes this time to remind us that he was responsible for “Red Riding: 1980” with his slow zooms and repetitive, claustrophobic shots inside the MI-5 office. The McVeigh house feels like a prison cell for Colette, even as she wanders around in her bright red coat to drag eyes with her wherever she goes. Riseborough is haunting to watch, as her voice barely goes above a whisper and the guilt on her face feels like it'll come rushing out any moment.
With “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” marking a return to the genre that is in need of more films that don't just involve James Bond, "Shadow Dancer" is another efficient, intelligent entry. With a conclusion that arrives as an open-ended gut punch, you're not just left lingering with unanswered questions, but the sensation that James Marsh has delivered something truly special. [B]