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By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2018 10:09AM

Red Sparrow (2018) Dir. Francis Lawrence

Based upon Jason Matthews’ book on his experiences in the CIA, Red Sparrow features Jennifer Lawrence fresh from her risky role in Aronofsky’s “mother!” tackling another part that pushes the actress’ boundaries further.

She plays ballerina Dominika Egorova – Lawrence prepped for the dance scenes but it looked somewhat CGI to me – who after a serious injury is recruited by her Uncle Ivan to work for Russian intelligence. She is sent to train as a “sparrow” – an agent that is assigned to use seduction to ensnare targets. In parallel, CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) tries to re-connect with a Russian mole he’s been working with and their two operatives' lives are soon entwined as they come face-to-face.

Both end up admitting to each other their appointed roles with their respective employers and it’s here that the film becomes a convoluted dance between the two sides. This sadly results in a somewhat confusing narrative though, which is a shame.

In the UK, the BBFC removed some violence which lowered its audience age-rating, but this now pushes the film into extreme “15” territory. Although Lawrence was aware of the film’s nudity, a female-led action thriller this really isn’t - despite the trailer-house sales pitch.

For example, during her spy training, Lawrence is coerced to strip and seduce in humiliating sexual ways which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Charlotte Rampling as "Matron", the Headmistress of the school, verges on a callousness and cruelty not seen since Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Matthias Schoenaert, Mary-Louise Parker Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds flesh out the surveillance support cast with similarly shady roles.

However, the sleazy spectacle does give the film more grit than your average thriller and is all the better for it. We already have the over-the-top violence of John Wick and Atomic Blonde so this more sordid story which goes to darker places than those two helps sets it apart.

A smart and clever script ensures the sleazy sequences never get too off-putting and Lawrence, as always, is a mesmerising screen presence – from the naïve agent at the film’s start to the brutal assassin we witness later. That said, the violence may be too extreme for some and the film runs out of steam towards the end as scenes of torture may push the limits of those even with the strongest of stomachs.

Secrets are swapped and a collaboration of swift action/chase moments keep the momentum moving forward. If I may be so crude, it certainly isn’t hard to see why Jennifer Lawrence is cast as a faultless, and flawless, seducer of agents. Sensual yet dangerous, Lawrence’s physical attributes are played to the full yet she gives more depth to a role that could have been simply “Bond-girl” territory.

An intriguing espionage adaptation, Red Sparrow has some harrowing scenes alongside the usual spy tropes of double-crossing agents, security snooping and enemy infiltration. It is also an exploitation flick at heart, and although the movie doesn’t have the gloss of the violent assassin films of the past few years, its nasty pleasures are cleverly calculated and provide some ugly Cold War-style thrills.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 16 2015 09:06AM

Pawn Sacrifice (2015) Dir. Edward Zwick

Tobey Maguire has had a strange career. Popping into my conscious as the hero of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the actor gave a solid performance as Parker even though fan-boys didn’t like his quips as the web-slinger. For me, Spider-Man 2 is one of the great superhero movies and with hindsight, Andrew Garfield’s overly-serious take on the same character was far less charming than Maguire’s heartfelt showing. Aside from that I recall few films he’s really been in since. After a terrific turn in The Great Gatsby as narrator Nick Carraway, he was completely cut from Life of Pi after Ang Lee thought him too well known.

So, I moved to Pawn Sacrifice as a fan of his work but unsure what to expect from the low-key actor. I soon realise however, Maguire is the perfect choice to play the real life chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer. The 70s prodigy was gifted with a genius mind and was beating national champions at just 14 years of age. The film covers a brief upbringing sequence as a youngster before we get to Fischer’s battle with Russian chess “superstar” Boris Spassky (played by an understated Liev Schreiber).

The true story is heightened with Cold War metaphors as the American underdog takes on the Russian players who had been a dominating force for years. The drama unfolds at a solid pace with Fischer’s intelligence being a blessing but also a curse as his arrogant blasting of his opposition shows his superiority on the board but it doesn’t go down so well in private. Maguire is great at playing socially awkward characters and does well here as he borders on lunacy with flashes of OCD and clumsy interchanges. The film treats his mental condition with respect and although there are a few melodramatic scenes, it is played out earnestly in the most part.

Your enjoyment of the film won’t depend on an interest in chess, however the slow pace may not be to everyone’s taste but a deliberate and thought out narrative reflects the protracted nature of the meticulous players. The closest comparison would be to Frost/Nixon (2008) with greater stakes at risk than the head to head battles shown. Although Pawn Sacrifice does not hit the lofty heights of that film, it has a decent enough endgame to avoid a cinematic stalemate.


Midlands Movies Mike

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