Spies who came back in from the Cold War
02 March, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow
Directed by Francis Lawrence
THE rise of Putin’s Russia as a new bogeyman to replace the void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union is writ large across this fairly unpleasant spy thriller, starring Jennifer Lawrence as an agent sent out to seduce an American CIA operative.
Featuring a host of stock-in-trade characters from central casting, Red Sparrow tells the story of a Russian spy school which trains agents to seduce enemies and chisel out information.
Director Francis Lawrence made the three Hunger Games films with Jennifer, and this in a way feels a little like her character transposed into an alternate world. This is Katniss Everdeen brought into a John le Carré-style spy story, but without any of le Carré’s cleverness of understanding.
Dominika (Lawrence) is a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi who suffers a terrible misfortune whilst on stage. We discover that the accident was actually a hit planned by a rival. Her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a top ranking agent and recruits the injured dancer to work for the state.
She is sent out to get in with CIA agent Nate (Joel Edgerton) and find out who is contact his in the higher echelons of the Russian government.
It has laugh-out-loud moments where British actors such as Jeremy Irons, playing a chain-smoking general, do cod Russian accents. It’s comedic.
While the Cold War aesthetic has been ably transferred to a modern time, this is a make-it-by-numbers spy story, but at its centre it lacks any plausible understanding of what secrets are so important.
It is also at times just plain nasty: violence involving knives makes it a hard watch, and the sexual violence and abuse is cringing.
Above all, it is a fairly long trial of film-goers’ strength, coming in over two hours, and made worse by having a bunch of characters that you don’t feel you care strongly enough about to engage with when the plot twists come.