20th CENTURY FOX (2018)

 

Director: Francis Lawrence

 

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mary-Louise Parker

The unrelated Lawrence’s reunite once more after their Hunger Games exploits for spy thriller Red Sparrow.

 

Based on Jason Matthew’s 2013 novel, Red Sparrow moves with the same griminess of its urban Russian setting – it’s bleak and joyless, but that doesn’t prevent it from being watchable or, indeed, a good movie. This, however, is not a spy thriller from the James Bond book of flicks, this is hard-edged and gritty. Those averse to gore and violence, be warned.

Celebrated Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) sees her dreams shattered after an on-stage accident leaves her with a snapped leg and a dancing career in the gutter. As the incident is happening, CIA operative Nate Nash’s (Edgerton) covert meeting with a ‘mole’ – AKA Marble - in a Moscow park is interrupted by interested police officers. The resulting chase leads to Nash being sent home and reassigned – despite him being the only operative Marble will deal with. Dominika’s creepy uncle, Ivan (Schoenaerts), offers her the chance to earn some serious money that will help pay for her ill mothers care – seduce a politician and uncover vital intel. Ivan has bigger plans, though, and enrols Dominika into the ‘Sparrow Programme’ – a government operation that teaches operatives to seduce in order to gain info from their targets. Her first mission (and top priority) is to track Nash and find out the true identity of Marble – the mole within the Russian government leaking vital information to the USA. If she doesn’t play ball, she dies. Simple.

 

Red Sparrow smoulders with the pace of a snail but, in this instance, is all the better for it. The slow-burn nature works because every scene seems vital to the plot – Francis Lawrence crafting each scene intricately enough to be interesting. As a concept, the movie would be a great companion piece to something like Notorious from the great Alfred Hitchcock, such is the machinations of the characters involved. The story is well-written and the twists and turns are all integrated nicely into the main narrative, though at times it all starts to feel a bit heavy and on the verge of becoming convoluted. It’s intriguing enough to remain interesting and the lead performances from Lawrence (especially) and Edgerton are high class. Red Sparrow isn’t simply just a tale of using sex as a weapon (it is, mainly) but it’s also a strong story of a woman deciphering the needs and weaknesses of powerful men and systematically taking them down – it’s certainly more than meets the eye here.

 

Anyone for a skin graft?

 

The movie is unashamedly open with its violence, gore, sex and nudity. It’s not for the faint-hearted with exposed bones, skin grafts, corpses and naked bits aplenty – in terms of storytelling, these aspects were relative and never felt “too much”. It’s certainly no holds barred in comparison to other movies of its ilk. Jennifer Lawrence shows she’s willing to do what it takes to portray her role and puts herself out there throughout. It’s another strong performance by an undoubtedly excellent actress – despite the shaky Russian accent. Edgerton is similarly good in his role but has less to do in terms of any development or interest. The supporting cast is solid and gritty – Matthias Schoenaert looking uncannily like a young Putin and Jeremy Irons looking frightfully similar to musical god Paul Weller. There’s nothing limp about the performances.

 

There’s a similar aesthetic to 2017’s Atomic Blonde in terms of its visuals, but where that movie was more action, this is more in-depth and compelling. It certainly won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure, it isn’t a fun movie per se. Whilst the pacing was successful, at times the movie does begin to sag as certain elements seemed to be stretched out longer than perhaps necessary but it soon picks up as the espionage thriller rolls on.

 

The final twist is ultimately satisfying and ensures the one-hundred-and-forty-minute-runtime that came before wasn’t wasted on a bland finale. With its stark openness, Red Sparrow succeeds because of its nakedness (no pun intended) – if you want action, see James Bond or Atomic Blonde, if you want an engaging, twisty and, at times, brutal spy flick, then Red Sparrow will tick your boxes. Forget Black Widow, this is the spy movie we need right now.

March 26th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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