The Dancer Upstairs


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. 40
    Falters in small but important ways -– the suspense, carefully ratcheted up throughout, just plain goes busto in the film’s final moments -– while Malkovich stays resolutely behind the camera, a consummate professional who, this time, misses his mark by the merest of degrees.
  2. 50
    The movie fails at the primary steps of turning Rejas' mind inside out and dramatizing the contradictions in his heart and soul.
  3. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    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.
  4. Bardem delivers the kind of performance the director might have given himself: subdued, thoughtful, wry, sometimes a bit too detached.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. A promising film rather than a fully realized one.
  8. While you can't fault The Dancer Upstairs for lack of ambition, its tantalizing ingredients add up to a less impressive package than I'd hoped for. Malkovich should select a more manageable subject the next time he sits in the director's chair.
  9. 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.
  10. The movie has a mystery, and moral unease, that lingers.
  11. 80
    The movie does an admirable job of juggling political, dramatic and comic elements.
  12. 50
    Humorous yet subtle characters aid Malkovich in creating a film that is engaging and entertaining, while at the same time lumbering during long stretches.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Has many of the qualities that made the actor such a great target for self-parody in Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" - it's sober, deliberate, self-consciously mysterious and no fun at all.
  17. At its best in the interludes between explosions.
  18. 63
    It's mostly a political thriller, contingent on a love story. It's kind of noirish, subtly humorous and intermittently confusing.
  19. 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.
  20. 42
    A murky, turgid work that is no doubt exactly the film Malkovich wished to make but is so indirect and affected as to border on incoherent.
  21. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    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.
  22. 63
    Ambitious material for a first-time directorial outing, but, even with a huge assist from his lead actor, Malkovich doesn't nail it.
  23. 75
    Malkovich weaves something delicate and devastating.
  24. 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.
  25. An ambitious political thriller, a multilingual film of mood and texture and the occasional haunting image.
  26. It's in English, but the actors speak it with tortuous accents that are a constant struggle to understand and make them seem like foreigners in their own land. Spanish with English subtitles would have served this story much, much better.
  27. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    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.
  28. 60
    Though he never quite rescues the film, Bardem continually suggests the tensions bubbling under the surface that Dancer itself never penetrates.
  29. 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.
  30. Malkovich has done considerable directing in the theater, but nothing in the acting here shows acuteness of choice or subtlety of touch.
  31. 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.
  32. The New Yorker
    Reviewed by: David Denby
    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]
  33. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    Patient and plodding -- but as realized by John Malkovich, in his directorial debut, utterly absorbing.
  34. Casting a film set in Latin America with Spanish-and Italian-speaking performers acting in English misfires; the actors' diverse accents clash, some are clearly more fluent than others and the sense of relief when anyone speaks a rare line in Spanish is palpable.
  35. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    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.
  36. Reviewed by: David Rooney
    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.
  37. 70
    Initially engrossing, The Dancer Upstairs slackens in its second half.
  38. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Ambitious and uneven.
  39. 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.
  40. The only reason this dilemma has any import is thanks to Bardem, who almost single-handedly drags the film along.

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