Film reviews: Shut Up and Play the Hits/Shadow Dancer

I saw two really good films in the cinema during the week and I’ve decided to write about them because they are not the type of films that most people wouldn’t necessarily think to watch. The first is the music documentary, Shut Up and Play the Hits and the second is a film about ‘The Troubles’ called Shadow Dancer.

Shut Up and Play the Hits

This film was premiered simultaneously across 40 odd screens in the UK and Ireland on September 4. There was even a live red carpet intro with some cringeworthy interviews beforehand. Shut Up and Play the Hits is a combination of a documentary and a concert film. It features the last show by the American electronic/punk outfit, LCD Soundsystem cut with before and after footage following the band’s frontman, James Murphy.

One of the other elements is Murphy being interviewed by pop culture journalist, Chuck Klosterman, which answers a lot of questions fans might have about a band deciding to break up at the height of their success. It seems that fame is a young man’s game and Murphy wants to just get on with the business of living.

I have to confess that I knew very little about LCD Soundsystem before I saw this. I imagine I would’ve felt differently if I hadn’t liked the actual music but thankfully I did! Aside from that, James Murphy is an interesting guy. He’s musically gifted and has a knack for intelligent lyrics but also eccentric, which made the scenes where he woke up alone in his apartment in a post-gig haze amusing. He did mundane things like shaving, playing with his pet bulldog and making coffee—obviously self-conscious at having nothing specific to do—and the filming made it seem like everything was taking place in a strange vacuum.

The close relationships between the band members and management also got attention, which give an insight into the dynamic. The final concert filmed in Madison Square Garden in New York revealed that they were a pretty spectacular live act. The whole film was beautifully shot but the concert scenes were exceptional. A selection of cameras and angles captured the energy of the crowd and the musicians. It made you want to be there, which I reckon was the aim. The pace swung between frenetic and quiet reflection but it worked well.

Overall, it was good documentary. It’s a must-see for fans of the band and a should-see for music fans in general. Hats off to directors, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace. It is still on limited release in cinemas but a good one to watch on DVD. Here’s a taster…

Shadow Dancer

This film is a tense thriller set in 1993 about Collette McVeigh, a would-be IRA bomber who is caught and then recruited by intelligence agency, MI5, as an informant. She is caught between the desire to protect her young son and loyalty to her family, particularly her IRA leader brothers. The audience also sees the viewpoint of the MI5 agent, Mac, who literally holds Collette’s fate in his hands.

The film is slow moving; everything has a washed-out and dreamlike feel as the plot works itself out. Some of the complexities of the so-called “Northern question” are in full flow. How do ordinary people plant bombs and carry out executions? How are families affected by politics? Do the authorities care about the pawns they use to gather information? There seems to be little room for sentimentality, which might be because of director, James Marsh’s, skill for documentary filmmaking.

Shadow Dancer—written by Tom Bradby, based on his own novel—is a joint Irish/British production so the cast is made up of some of the best and brightest actors from both countries. Andrea Riseborough gives a very composed performance. She gives the impression that emotions are churning below but won’t break the surface. Clive Owen, as Mac, is his convincing in his sincerity in the face of his cold-hearted boss, played by Gillian Anderson.

Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson play Collette’s brothers, Gerry and Connor. Gillen is referred to as the harsher of the two but is rarely seen as such. Given his steely performances in the RTE series, Love/Hate, he could’ve been used to better effect. Gleeson does better as the baby-faced enforcer. He’s in everything at the moment; definitely a star in the making. David Wilmot does well as their devious, looming IRA boss while Bríd Brennan is jaded and understated as the family matriarch.

The best thing about the film is the suspense, enhanced by an evocative music score. You’re always waiting for something bad to happen and the two plot twists near the end are masterful. The subject matter is difficult and the film doesn’t fulfil its potential somehow but it’s worth a watch.

PS: I also saw an utterly sh*te film called The Escapist. If you like prison break movies… still don’t lower yourself to watch it. Ever. That is all.