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RED SPARROW

SYNOPSIS:
Ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited to 'Sparrow School' a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. But her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Review by Louise Keller:
Jennifer Lawrence is the film’s greatest asset in this gritty, dark spy thriller that engages at times but ultimately leaves a nasty aftertaste. Adapted from former CIA operative Jason Matthews’s book, Justin Haythe’s drawn out screenplay lures us into the world of Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence), who is recruited into Whore School after an accident that leaves her few options for survival. Secrets, lies, sex, moles, traitors, CIA and Russian Intelligence pave the way for the action, but by the time the final confrontation takes place, it is difficult to care about who did what to whom.

Lawrence aside, Austrian director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games) has amassed a strong cast with ever-charismatic Jeremy Irons as a Russian General, Charlotte Rampling as the sadistic headmistress who trains the girls (‘Your body belongs to the state’), Joel Edgerton as Dominika’s CIA target and Matthias Schoenaerts (fabulously sleazy) as her Russian SVR uncle Ivan, who has no qualms about pushing his vulnerable niece to use her body to give men what they want in return for information for the agency. The scene in which Dominika allows herself to be compromised in a hotel bedroom scene is just the beginning. It ends badly. By the time Dominika arrives in Budapest to seduce and obtain information from Nate Nash (Edgerton), she has proven herself as someone who can think on her feet. Or her back. It’s a shame there is not more chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton; the way their personal relationship begins is not only unbelievable, but rather silly.

The torture scene will deter many. It is horrific. I closed my eyes: I could not watch. On another note, I would like to know what kind of concealer Dominika uses that swiftly and effectively hides all traces of black eyes after violence.

The exposition steams along with its various twists and turns; we tag along to see where they lead. It is Lawrence who is the magnet: she displays enough curves and flesh to satisfy the male portion of the audience while retaining a sense of innocence throughout. As for the mish-mash of accents, they are all over the place. But the sense of place is strong with superb production design that envelops us into its Russian and Hungarian reality. Shot in Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and London, the authenticity of the locations resonates.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps most impressive at the start of the film is Jennifer Lawrence on point as ballerina Dominika Egorova, dancing with confidence and style. It's a credit to her professionalism and talent, as is the rest of her performance as the newest Red Sparrow trained by Russia's spy Matron, played with fearsome solemnity by Charlotte Rampling. Joel Edgerton delivers a sustained, edgy performance that keeps us invested in his character throughout (thank goodness). Matthias Shoenhaerts plays Dominika's uncle Vanya, a crucial character in the story, protecting her while also putting her in extreme danger.

As we gradually meet these and the other characters, there is a slow realisation that it is not only their mostly unconvincing Russian accents that are disconcerting but the entire screenplay. Dominika displays a violent streak that is at odds with her art, a characteristic on display further on, as well. This is just one of the wrong notes struck.

Before we get to see that, though, Matron's remote spy mansion (and the grey ill-fitting uniform for all) is straight out of 50s B movies, with the focus on straight-faced sex as part of the training is a groan. It feels as if the filmmakers had a list of inclusions and 'sex scenes' was one that had to be ticked as often as possible.

Some of the (overwritten) dialogue tries to make the story deep and meaningful, but it serves only to confuse, as does the choppy editing - intended to give pace - and the story of these spy capers simply feels forced and fake.

The characters whisk snappily between London, Budapest, Moscow and the CIA's HQ, but none of these locations are really well used. Travel is instant, sense of place is missing.

The sense of disappointment increases as the plot contorts, a dated spy movie ethos enveloping it, right to the end.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

RED SPARROW (MA15+)
(US, 2018)

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Jeremy Irons, Thekla Reuten, Douglas Hodge, Sakina Jeffrey, Sergei Polunin, Sebastian Hulk

PRODUCER: Peter Chernin, David Ready, Jenno Topping, Steven Zaillian

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

SCRIPT: Justin Haythe (novel by Jason Matthews)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jo Willems

EDITOR: Alan Edward Bell

MUSIC: James Newton Howard

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Djurkovic

RUNNING TIME: 139 mins

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2018







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