Sunday 1 April 2018

Red Sparrow by Haythe and Matthews

This is a really terrific spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence (with bangs — I mean her hairdo. Not gunfire. Although there is that.  And not the other kind of bangs. Although there are those, too).

I'd heard disappointing reports about this movie, but went to see it anyway and I'm delighted I did. It started strongly and just kept getting better and better, finally concluding with a knockout ending. 

Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Dominika Egorova, a successful ballerina. When Dominika's career as a dancer goes seriously off the rails, her sinister Uncle Vanya (no, honestly) conscripts her as a spy.

Dominika is a distinctive character, vulnerable but volatile. And, while we're on the V's, also violent and vengeful. 

Uncle Vanya is played by Matthias Schoenaerts, a wonderful actor with a chameleon quality, who in this role has been given an hilarious and somewhat disturbing resemblance to Vladimir Putin. 

The versatile Australian actor Joel Edgerton plays Nate Nash, a CIA operative running a mole in the Kremlin. Nate becomes romantically entangled with Dominika and apparently makes her a double agent.

But is Dominika a double or a triple?

This sort of plot is fairly standard espionage fare, but here it's been given a real freshness, edge and power.

The film benefits from gorgeous wintry photography by Dutch cinematographer Jo Willems who has a gift for bleakly beautiful urban compositions. 

It is outstandingly directed by Francis Lawrence who worked with Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) on three out of four Hunger Games movies (which were also photographed by Jo Willems). Francis Lawrence's directing debut was I am Legend.

The music is also memorable. James Newton Howard provides an edgy, insistent Bernard Herrmann style score. 

The story of Red Sparrow so strong and rich and inventive I wasn’t surprised to see it was based on a novel — a bestseller by Jason Matthews, a former CIA officer. Matthews also won an Edgar award for best first novel. The Edgar (Allan Poe) awards are nominally for mystery fiction but they also embrace spy thrillers.

The excellent screenplay was by Justin Haythe who wrote the oddball but memorable A Cure for Wellness and Snitch, a surprisingly good Dwayne Johnson movie. 

Red Sparrow has a tone of sexual violence and S&M which makes it distinctively dark and adult. This may be a turn off for some viewers. Otherwise, though, I highly recommend the film.

(Image credits: surprisingly, for such a big movie, only four posters available at good old Imp Awards.)

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