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« Happy Oscar Day ! | Main | Final Oscar Predictions »
Sunday
Mar042018

Review: Red Sparrow 

 

by Eric Blume

The Russian Tourism Board won’t likely be sponsoring the film Red Sparrow, the new spy movie from Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence.  Other than featuring some very chic ushankas on a very attractive cast, this film makes Russians look very nasty, just like we’ve always imagined them to be for the movies.  Lawrence’s conception of the country illustrates his wonderfully corny, often thrilling, mysterious, and silly/serious approach into old-fashioned espionage that we don’t see much of nowadays.

Lawrence starts his film where he should:  firmly on the face of his leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence, sporting a bangs-heavy brown wig.  She’s a famous ballet dancer in Moscow, and the director steals a bit of the feverish tone of Black Swan in her early scenes.  The plot unravels in a series of crosses, double-crosses, and reverses that include her involvement with a US spy played by Joel Edgerton...

The script by Justin Haythe has some legit structure and verve, and the movie keeps you on your toes.  The highlight of the film is a completely out-there set piece where Jennifer’s uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) sends her off to a Russian manor house in the countryside where Charlotte Rampling puts potential young spies through some sort of crazy sex exercises to test their resilience.  The whole sequence is absolutely bonkers, presented in a very frank adult manner, and it’s some sort of testament to Francis Lawrence’s talent that these scenes, which should be ludicrous, have a weird, foreign tension to them that transcends camp.  I can’t think of a major Hollywood release that includes scenes this kinky and bizarre, and even though this stretch doesn’t make sense, it sure is ballsy.  It also sets up the film’s best line, when Jennifer later tells Schoenarts, “you sent me to whore school” in a glorious Boris-and-Natasha accent.

Jennifer Lawrence remains a creature who seems born for the movies.  She’s effortlessly compelling, and she charges into all of her scenes with authority and simplicity.  But Francis Lawrence isn’t the best director for her, because he doesn’t know how to capitalize on her strengths and properly hide her weaknesses.

 Jennifer has very little actual technique, but she’s phenomenal on instinct.  She’s so in the moment that everything she does feels unpredictable. A director like David O. Russell pushes her instincts to the extreme:  it’s what makes her performance in American Hustle so controversial.  In that film, you can see that her lack of technique keeps the character from coalescing into a coherent whole, but then again what she’s doing is so alive and vital and original that she creates a loopy beauty that’s even more interesting than a traditional approach.  Without being pushed, however, Jennifer can fall into a certain flatness, which happens here and there in Red Sparrow.  But then just when you’re about to write her off in this movie, Jennifer will play a moment so directly, with such economy, and have such power playing it, that all is forgiven.  She may not yet be a great actress, but there truly is nobody else working in movies quite like Jennifer Lawrence.

The rest of the cast acquit themselves admirably.  Mary-Louise Parker shows up for two big scenes that she plays in that zany ML-P way that nobody else would ever think of doing.  She adds a juicily comic dimension to a piece that really needs that levity, and when her scenes are over, you wonder why she doesn’t get more work.

Red Sparrow is terrific fun.  Every actor has a different accent, and there’s hats and wigs galore.  Francis Lawrence doesn’t have a unique flair, or any sense of gonzo theatricality that can lift the material.  But he’s a strong craftsman, and not only does he deliver on the tension when needed, he also has the confidence to slow down the non-action sequences, trusting that the audience will be hooked by Jennifer and the tried-and-true tropes of the genre.  The movie is often great and bad within the same scene, so there’s plenty of pleasure to be had.

 

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Reader Comments (11)

Just an OK movie... I like Lawrence, but her accent was horrible.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commentergrrr

This is 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. Are you sure you saw the same film?

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJF

The movie was a bit below average... Lawrence was quite fine in the beginning, but then I felt she lost her "cinematic magnet" factor. I don't know... It's the second time (after "mother!") I feel Lawrence is not a breath of fresh air anymore. Maybe she's just not the kind of actress who's able to reinvent herself like I thought she was

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Some actors should just not do accent work, ever. Jennifer Lawrence is one of them; even her Long Island accent in 'American Hustle' was terrible and kept coming and going.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike

"This is 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. Are you sure you saw the same film?"

If you judge a movie by the Rotten Tomatoes score, why even read reviews?

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I got the vibe of this being a remake of "La Femme Nikita" with a "Black Widow" twist... that's why I am passing on this one.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

@Suzanne

Than k you...

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commentergrrr

I was pleasent surprised...
Yes, the accents are all over the place, but Jennifer gives a strong performance, This + Mother!, good job.

Charlotte Rampling part was my favorite out of the movie, it didnt felt like a cliche. Iron + Rampling next to Lawrance kept me enterntained.

Schoenaerts + Edgerton were fine... perhapes miscat, but I can't complain seeing 2 hunks like that on the screen.
I found it funny that the characters werent quite sure about Edgerton's character looks, fit but a bit fat, then out of Jlaw league, then the beautiful american.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTiago

Zzzzzzzzzz

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNia

I saw it and enjoyed it. Quite a bit sexier and more violent than I was expecting, not that I’m complaining. F. Lawrence is kind of a generic director, so man did he luck out with J. Law. She’s game and on and adult in a way we haven’t really seen before. (This isn’t kids playing dress up, thank God.)

P.S. Her Russian accent was fine. Rampling’s was the problem.

March 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

The uncle kisses her (mostly on the hair) eight times right up until he's shot. Hair kissing is way to get by with it. Thank you for portraying it.

March 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarol reitmeier

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