Terrorism was a hot topic in today’s Competition section, with two separate entries dealing with very different types of independence fighters.
First up was Captive, a fictional account of a kidnapping by the Filipino terrorist separatist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which writer/director Brillante Ma. Mendoza derived from real events, primarily the 2001 Dos Palmas abductions in Palawan.
In a powerful opening scene, members of the ASG break into a beachside resort armed to the teeth and abduct 20 foreigners, including a French missionary played by an atypically underwhelming Isabelle Huppert. The hostages are held for over a year as the ASG hides in the jungle, waiting to be paid large ransoms for the hostages’ release.
Though it’s a premise rich with potential, allowing for a number of different investigations – psychological, political, documentary, you name it – little is made of it. Too much time is dedicated to depicting countless skirmishes between the terrorists and the military, which are shot in the style typical of action films – frantic handheld camerawork, fast-paced editing – although the film clearly has higher aspirations. At length, these shoot-outs become repetitive and leave other more interesting elements underdeveloped.
The plight of the hostages is not conveyed successfully, due in equal part to the under-exposure of the characters’ personalities and to their stilted dialogues and performances. Similarly, the terrorists remain little more than cyphers. The film only insists on the fact that they’re Muslim fundamentalists, but never really explores either their separatist aspirations or that many of them are too young and/or ignorant to fully grasp what these are about.
Ultimately, Captive’s action-oriented focus squanders a great opportunity of bringing significant exposure to a violent strife that has been going on for 30 years largely outside of the media spotlight.
One conflict that certainly hasn’t suffered the same neglect is the Troubles, which provide the subject of James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer.
When Collette (Andrea Riseborough), an IRA collaborator, is caught for a botched bombing attempt in the London Tube, MI-5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) gives her a choice: she can switch sides and return to Belfast as an informant, or forsake her young son while she spends the next 25 years in prison. She picks the former, ignorant of the fact that her faction is already on the lookout for another informant in their midst and that suspicion will automatically fall on her.
Tightly scripted and featuring strong performances (Riseborough is particularly excellent), the film generates one nerve-wracking scene after the other as Collette attempts to juggle between her two roles, her deception becoming ever more difficult to sustain.
Many an outstanding film has been made about the Troubles, most notably Paul Greengrass’ Golden Bear-winning Bloody Sunday and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. While Shadow Dancer certainly pales in comparison to these, it is nonetheless a solid piece of filmmaking that crafts a gripping thriller without feeling exploitive of its subject matter.