The Dancer Upstairs

Metascore
64

Generally favorable reviews - based on 40 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 40
  2. Negative: 0 out of 40

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Critic Reviews

  1. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    90
    Patient and plodding -- but as realized by John Malkovich, in his directorial debut, utterly absorbing.
  2. A story of obsession and honor, deception and self-deception set against a sharply etched landscape of political upheaval and intrigue. Malkovich orchestrates all this with assuredness, and Bardem, looking weary and worn, inhabits his character with a realness, a truth, that's downright spooky. And beautiful.
  3. The movie has a mystery, and moral unease, that lingers.
  4. 80
    The movie does an admirable job of juggling political, dramatic and comic elements.
  5. 80
    Echoes its director's own deportment as a performer, alternating silky smoothness with burlap coarseness. Though Mr. Malkovich stays entirely behind the scenes, he creates a languorous but gripping story of people fighting to stay a step ahead of hopelessness.
  6. Reviewed by: David Rooney
    80
    The film is powered by a superbly controlled performance from Javier Bardem. While it lacks economy and could have used a firmer hand in shaping the key central relationship, this intelligent, arrestingly sober drama packs a cumulative punch.
  7. If the screenwriter and director had followed their cinematic instincts fully, they would have collaborated on one of the more satisfying political thrillers in years; instead, they've managed to create three-quarters of one.
  8. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    80
    The film has a foggy cast to it--flat and insinuatingly creepy, like the actor. But then it can be lit, in an instant, by searing flash-pots of cruelty and wit. Even when it's slightly opaque, it's transfixing.
  9. 80
    The Dancer Upstairs, is a haunting and often beautiful work, part doomed romance and part political thriller, that demonstrates the adult command of the medium Malkovich has always demonstrated as an actor.
  10. Bardem delivers the kind of performance the director might have given himself: subdued, thoughtful, wry, sometimes a bit too detached.
  11. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    75
    Malkovich is more interested in hitting notes of elegiac lyricism than delivering socko action; this is a thriller that means to get under your skin rather than make you leap from your seat.
  12. 75
    Malkovich weaves something delicate and devastating.
  13. 75
    This is a thriller that embraces stillness and silence where others prefer noise and bombast. It thrives on the hush before the explosion instead of its aftermath, and it's that eerie sense of expectation that gives the film its thick aura of suspense.
  14. 75
    Elegantly, even languorously, photographed by Jose Luis Alcaine, who doesn't punch into things but regards them, so that we are invited to think about them. That doesn't mean the movie is slow; it moves with a compelling intensity toward its conclusion.
  15. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    75
    It has an elusive, haunting quality, but it's too long at 133 minutes, and there aren't many movies these days that get more involving as they progress.
  16. 70
    A labor of love hobbled by a stubborn desire to eke its delicate love story out of a premise that all but sits up and begs to be treated as a political thriller.
  17. 70
    Studded with terrorist attacks... Yet Malkovich never exploits these for action-movie thrills: in each instance the loss of life is terrible and the morality of the act is left treacherously ambiguous.
  18. It's not a great film, but in its reckless audacity -- an American director working from a British novel set in Latin America, dealing with the largest themes of Latin American art, politics and history -- it's reassuring. Someone's still willing to take a big chance.
  19. 70
    Initially engrossing, The Dancer Upstairs slackens in its second half.
  20. The New Yorker
    Reviewed by: David Denby
    70
    A dramatic failure, but, at its best, it offers a frightening suggestion of the way terror can alter reality so thoroughly that, step by step, the fantastic becomes accepted as the mere commonplace. [5 May 2003, p. 104]
  21. The Dancer Upstairs would have made a suitable double feature with "The Quiet American"; both films unfold slowly, build toward an anxious climax and end with a shrug of grief.
  22. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    70
    Ambitious and uneven.
  23. At its best in the interludes between explosions.
  24. 63
    It's mostly a political thriller, contingent on a love story. It's kind of noirish, subtly humorous and intermittently confusing.
  25. 63
    Ambitious material for a first-time directorial outing, but, even with a huge assist from his lead actor, Malkovich doesn't nail it.
  26. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    63
    Far from perfect but completely unique, the film could best be described as a paranoid South American metaphysical political thriller -- you heard me -- and whatever its failures, they're not ones of nerve or imagination.
  27. A promising film rather than a fully realized one.
  28. The movie is often both smart and creepy, but it's still a novice effort. After an initially engrossing start, it stumbles through a series of implausible coincidences and murky events, barely held together by the magnetic performance of Javier Bardem.

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