The Dancer Upstairs
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     John Malkovich is best known for his portrayals of a wide range of deranged characters in such films as Dangerous Liasons, Of Mice and Men, In the Line of Fire, Con Air and many more.  He even played a deranged version of himself in Being John Malkovich.  But, he has always been interested in more than just acting.  He helped start the Steppenwolf Theatre with his friend Gary Sinise in 1976.  Now, Malkovich has made his first foray as a movie director in The Dancer Upstairs.  Unlike other actors turned directors who direct themselves (e.g., Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, Mel Gibson in Braveheart, George Clooney in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), this film does not feature Malkovich in front of the camera.  
     The Dancer Upstairs
tells the story of a policeman (Javier Bardeem) in a generic latin american country who is obsessed with finding the leader (Abel Folk) of a shadowy revolutionary group whose members are wreaking havoc in the country.  Bardeem is under pressure to catch the rebel leader before the army takes over and declares martial law.  Meanwhile, Bardeem meets and becomes friends with the teacher (Laura Morante
) of his daughter's ballet class.  She is a dancer but she lives downstairs.   This film is from the book by Nicholas Shakespeare, loosely based on Abimael Guzmán who led the Shining Path revolutionary group in Peru.  
     The Dancer Upstairs was filmed in Spain, Portugal and Equador, and features an excellent latin-american cast.  Bardeem, in particular, is amazing.  He, more than anything, makes this film worth seeing.  He is a well known Spanish actor but he exploded on the North American scene only recently with his part in Before Night Falls for which he got an Oscar Nomination.  Although, to some extent, everyone else pales next to Bardeem in this film, nice performances are given Morante and also by Bardeem's fellow police officers, Juan Diego Botto and Elvira Minguez.  On the whole, Malkovich does a good job with the direction and concentrates on the performances of the actors.  But the story tends to meander around and the movie seems a bit long.  It is a little more than 2 hours. The story could have been tightened up a bit.  The main plot of the pursuit is engrossing but the other subplots are not handled so well, and by the end you are a bit unsatisfied.  And, The Dancer Upstairs is like a Dickens' story.  It is full of unlikely coincidences that come together at the end of the movie.  But Bardeem is worth seeing and he may get another Oscar nomination for The Dancer Upstairs.