Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Review: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow
Cert: 15 / 140 mins / Dir. Francis Lawrence / Trailer

And like that March is upon us, which can mean only one thing: The year's first Graveyard Slot™. The home of all the movies which aren't worthy enough to go up against the Awards-nudgers of Jan/Feb, and not loud or jazzy enough to be scheduled alongside the superhero flicks that populate the rest of the year. It's a sad state of affairs, but there we are. The release-window yields some fascinating oddities, of course, as distributors take a gamble on their less-categorisable fare and some unexpected gems come our way.

This isn't one of them, though.

Modern-day Russia*1. When promising Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is badly injured during a performance*2, the loss of her dancing career threatens to tear her fragile family apart. But Dominika's uncle Dimitrevich in the Russian government (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers an alternative way to make use of her talents, by becoming a ruthless spy and extracting information from American agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Obviously in this game, truth is a commodity as flexible as currency, and trust is even harder to come by…

While it's certainly a solid enough premise for a story, Red Sparrow is best at being a very ordinary, throwback thriller, boasting a strong primary cast and an impressive supporting-array of British acting talent (Charlotte Rampling, Joely Richardson, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds), none of whom can carry their intended accents from scene to scene. And while she's basically fine in the central role, you never forget you're watching 'Jennifer Lawrence In A Film'. For a secret agent, she sure stands out. The screenplay delights in being grotesquely provocative, albeit a way as thoroughly hackneyed as the steamy thrillers it thinks it's better than.

More quiet brooding than calculating action, this isn't as tense or dynamic as its trailer might suggest, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, there just isn't enough intrigue to fill the vacuum which is left behind. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton receive neither the plot nor direction to be able to lose themselves convincingly in their performances. While I'm all for complex characters, the script has our main players be so wilfully convoluted that their actual motivations cease to matter after around 90 minutes. After that I just waiting for it to either kick off, or end.

It occasionally kicks off, and it takes its sweet time to end. While the film certainly has its moments, there's just too much padding between them to make a satisfying movie. At least Charlize Theron didn't need a sit down and a little cry every time she had to get her hands dirty.

A calculating cultural juxtaposition, Jason Matthews' 2013 source-novel has been heralded by those in the know for its detail and authenticity. If Francis Lawrence's film follows suit and realism is this disbelievable, then maybe in the 21st century war of misinformation, the Kremlin has already won…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think of the plot-layering and overall lack of emotional resonance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, mixed with the self-satisfaction of Bridge of Spies.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If it's raining and you've got two and a half hours to kill.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It isn't.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Not for long, the film isn't worth arguing over.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Uncle Owen and Captain Panaka are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 There's a line dropped into the script early on referencing social media, a nod to the audience to let them know that the film is either set 'now' or in the very recent past. So imagine my subsequent amusement when some International Secrets™ are sold, bought and delivered on five 3.5" floppy disks, the slow, bulky and pitifully small data-storage format that the '90s couldn't get rid of quickly enough. I suppose this is fantastic security for each agency as nobody else would be able to conveniently read what's on them. "I just have to verify the data" says Comrade J-Law, firing up a conspicuously modern laptop which presumably has a USB floppy drive attached that the cinematographer goes out of their way not to show us. Then again, Joel Edgerton is still using a pen-and-paper encryption method here. I expect the eventual arrival of a fax machine is going to blow his mind… [ BACK ]

*2 Her leg snaps. Across the shin. Just like that. I think the skinny male-dancer she's prancing around with accidentally somehow puts five times his own body-weight on it or something. It looks painful enough and then you think - wait, what? Dancer, trained, athletic. Leg, snapped. "Sorry, I can't come into work today Terry, my leg's snapped". Not to get too spoilerific, but she's interrogated at one point later by a bloke hitting her with a cosh and nothing snaps then. I'm definitely banking 'snapped leg' for the next time I want to sneak in a mid-week #FilmDay… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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