Published Apr 01, 2003John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with Nicholas Shakespeare's screen adaptation of his own novel about a civilian police inspector, Rejas (Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls), who is assigned to track down a mysterious revolutionary leader in an unspecified Latin American country.
As the revolution spreads across the nation, marked by increasingly violent acts targeting members of the ruling class, Rejas finds his investigation compromised by the country's equally brutal and corrupt military government, who declare martial law and begin to crack down indiscriminately on any activity that is even vaguely anti-establishment.
In the midst of all this chaos, Jejas begins to pursue a relationship with his daughter's ballet teacher, Yolanda (Laura Morante, The Son's Room). The film has an oddly apolitical feel, despite being set in such a politically volatile environment. It chooses to focus largely on Rejas' personal struggle to do his job and maintain some kind of integrity, while commenting only on the tactics and not the motivations behind the actions of both the revolutionaries and the government.
The love story is definitely the film's weak point, establishing the supposedly strong connection between Rejas and Yolanda far too quickly and easily to be believable. Like Before Night Falls, The Dancer Upstairs makes the curious choice of telling this Latin American story with an entirely Spanish speaking cast acting in English, but fortunately the script's dry humour is still able to shine through. (Fox Searchlight)