Red Sparrow (2018)

fid18020

A thriller film is my favourite type of genre to watch, add spies to the mix and you’re surely onto a boiling pot of suspense, substance and ultimately a winner, right? In the case of Francis Lawrence’s new release, starring Katniss Everdeen from his previous directorial work, we get a rather stale movie with less thrills than expected.

Ex-ballerina Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) ends up seeing a bloody murder and to keep herself alive she’s ushered into the Russian intelligence as a Sparrow; an operative with the skills to employ seduction as a weapon. Meanwhile, CIA operative Nate (Joel Edgerton) is being tracked by the Russians, after an asset meeting, which leads them to believe the Americans are trying to keep this mysterious mole a safe secret.

‘Red Sparrow’ is deserving of its certification, it’s a ton more brutal than I expected. The amount of sexual violence, murder and torture give this a movie a definite blood soaked edge and gritty quality but more often than not it’s there as shock value and not much else below the surface. It’s with the sexualisation that this feature has been scraping up lots of problems and I agree with the majority of those comments. It’s not insanely gratuitous all the way through but and this is a big but, the movie fully seems to revel in the ‘whore school’ aspect of training and selling itself as a talking point of the skin factor with its leading lady showcasing her body.

This manipulative manner of training young cadets hoping to be important spies for Mother Russia, may be apt and the humiliation they go through is something I can truly believe still happens in the process of training, but this movie feels so cold and calculated to be more about style than any intriguing substance. Unlike the well constructed suspense and Cold War stakes of television series, ‘The Americans’, this film fails to follow in that vein in any sense, there are no interesting dynamics behind closed doors, it seems to merely wallow in the easy exploitation of its Sparrows and degrading J Law in flesh revealing outfits.

Francis Lawrence directs in an uneven manner, the movie totally meanders from scene to scene and this is what causes the pace to suffer. I did find the final thirty minutes to be of more interest as the mystery began to finally unravel more than before and frequent twists and turns came into play. The final ploy by Dominika is well executed and sustained my interest nicely and with a bubbling score to add tension it woke me up. Generally though, this is a long film that feels long; one that made me almost bored of what can only be described as a bland thriller.

Jennifer Lawrence is the best aspect in this entire thing, she’s a fine actor and she goes through a wheelhouse of almost every emotion as a spy taught to seduce and stay one step ahead. Joel Edgerton possesses a vague Yankee charisma as the American for J Law to keep in contact with but there’s something almost dimly grey about his performance, as with Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons who both appear to be giving about 20% to their characters. Matthias Schoenaerts is the next best performer as a man carrying untrustworthy motives like a suitcase, in his convincing turn as a rather creepy uncle.

There are minor moments when this ‘thriller’ is faintly intelligent and committed to espionage-like drama but it’s nowhere near as slick or smart as I think it believes itself to be.

5.5/10

Advertisements

Snowden (2016)

6a2d45c885d7e6533105c4f86086dffc

With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10