The good news is that no-ones mistaking this for Atomic Blonde 2: Blonde Harder.
The bad news is that I doubt many people will see it to mistake it for anything. Not just no-one I know is particularly excited for this film but because Red Sparrow is the most unpleasant spy film I think i’e ever seen. Is Francis Lawrence a pen name for Hostel director Eli Roth? (No. He did direct 3 Hunger Games films though.)
I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a James Bond film, if anything the trailer gave me a Jason Bourne vibe but that was wrong as well. No, the best description for this film is that Red Sparrow is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo directed by a not very talented Nihilist.
It’s great that Jennifer Laurence is such an amazing actress as she carries this film completely (and I wish her well in her attempt to fix Colonial politics in her year off.) However I find it a shame that pretty much every comment I have elicited up until now has related to the that that ms. Laurence’s erm…. ‘acting talents’ are on full display several times during the film. And according to an article I was sent, this is why pretty much every positive review come from a male critic and very few if any come from female critics.
Which is odd because I’m a male critic and I have absolutely no intention of giving this an overwhelmingly positive review.
Anyway, sometime after the end of the Cold War but before anyone has heard of the mobile telephone, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. (Although she apparently skipped any hand to hand and armed combat training). Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.
And that seems like a pretty cool idea for a spy thriller, new agent trying to uncover a mole- unsure of who she can trust- high up in the Russian government whilst the CIA scrambles to get him out. Brilliant. Throw in a sick mum and an uncle high up in the security services and you have a pretty good setup for a new spy thriller franchise.
Aside from the fact it’s pretty coldly shot, takes a random pointless detour in London that adds 20 minutes to the run-time and implies that this film takes place after 2014 but everyone is still using floppy disks, pretty much everyone either beats up, attempts to or actually rapes Laurence’s character, the mole (who you should have spotted after about 20 minutes) is uncovered not by diligent work or some sort of slip up but by literally saying ‘I am the mole’ just so the film can end and we can all go home.
And how this film got a mere 15 rating I have no idea. The BBFC states that this film has “strong bloody violence, gore, sexual violence, sex, very strong language” and it’s not kidding. This is a boundary pushing film but shot in such a style that it’s impossible to get involved and I remained disconnected from the whole preceding when I feel a better director would have made more of the material on offer here. Hell, some scenes are so overly, clumsily lit that they’re clearly taking place on a set. You can’t care about the characters, it’s not a terribly original story, it’s a tough sell: a bleak two-hour-plus Russian thriller with graphic rape and torture. It’s also surprisingly low on action, choosing talkiness over more audience-pleasing mayhem. It doesn’t entirely work, and there’s something about its full-throttle nastiness that lingers, but it’s refreshing to see something that exists in the studio system that possesses so many queasily perverse elements instead of being yet another 12a blandathon. It’s just not quite as seductive or clever or intelligent as it thinks it is.
I gather that there are two more books in the series (written by an actual CIA agent) but I’ll probably give them a miss.
My Score- Skip It