February 26, 2018

CINEMA | Jennifer Lawrence Deceives 'Red Sparrow'

"The Cold War did not end. It merely shattered into a thousand pieces."
Jennifer Lawrence Francis Lawrence | Red Sparrow

Actress Jennifer Lawrence is having an interesting moment in her career. After the very divisive (and bonkers) Mother!, she reteams with her Hunger Games franchise director Francis Lawrence for another very different kind of role. Red Sparrow is decidedly not the sexy action spy thriller (in the vein of Atomic Blonde) it seems and much more of a insular, harrowingly grim character piece of espionage and intrigue à la John le Carré based on former CIA operative Jason Matthews' novel of the same name.

Lawrence plays a composed Russian dancer, Dominika, who is recruited into an elite state spy program called "Sparrow", also referred to as "whore school", by her Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts). Her frankly violent and abrasive state training is brutal and psychologically disturbing to say the least.

She doesn't quite play it either totally confident nor vulnerable. It's an interesting, illusively layered performance full of expected but intriguing contradictions. It's a fairly daring performance even in opposition to her more recent roles of interest.

Co-lead Joel Edgerton gets a lot to do as a CIA handler who recruits and tries to protect Dominika. It's a fine complementary performance where he's almost entirely subservient to her motivations with the illusion he's in charge. While Lawrence's beauty during sex is used more of a threat and weapon during her graphic scenes, Edgerton feels far more objectified, gratuitous and traditional eye candy in a subtle reversal sexist ideals in contrast to films brutality.

Jennifer Lawrence Joel Edgerton Francis Lawrence | Red Sparrow

Up until the last act, there's an amusing sense of questioning allegiances. However, Justin Haythe's script plays up far too much the sense of double agents and crossing. Everyone's motivations feel pretty clear and the ramp up to multiple climaxes outsteps the mostly slow burn but fierce tone of the film's ideas.

There's actually quite a bare cast as the film relies mostly on setting and its dual leading performances. Jeremy Irons who doesn't even try with an accent as a Russian general. Irons is stoic and dominating as ever but his Britishness as a Russian official only further highlights the confusing sense of identity where the film stars an American and an Australian actor as a Russian spy and American CIA agent speaking English with decent, appropriate accents, but that's Hollywood for you.

The film is set mostly in Moscow and Budapest yet all the characters speak English with local accents—save for one scene where Russian is inexplicably spoken with English subtitles for no reason and is never explained. It's incredibly distracting seeing all the very Russian settings in state buildings and English being spoken by its characters.

Red Sparrow is a very intriguing film from the star and director behind the last three Hunger Games films. Lawrence's direction is impressively fluid. Full of post-Soviet intrigue, the film is bare of typical political ideas but full of physical and psychological intrigue. It's a daring, audaciously confident portrayal of deceptive character relationships likely to dissuade or turn off general audiences while clearly cementing the two Lawrences as a still powerful filmmaking duo beyond their previous young adult collaborations.

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