Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

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Movie review: Far from the Madding Crowd

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from big summer blockbusters and Hollywood comedies and review a British independent film Far from the Madding Crowd, which might be an awards contender later this year.

To begin with, I would like to admit that I am a huge fan of British classical literature, I especially adore the novels and the authors from the late Romantic Period/Victorian Era. (I’m currently reading Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte). I also really enjoy movies made in the UK and made by the people living there. I feel like they are very refreshing and a nice break from Hollywood. I tend to watch a lot of motion pictures that come from Hollywood, so it’s nice to squeeze in a refresher once in a while. (I limit myself to these 2 countries (UK and US) because I know English language the best out of all foreign languages). In short, to my mind, British films have a unique style and an extraordinary view on the world, which I really admire.

Despite the fact that I would consider myself to be a book nerd, I haven’t actually read the Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd before going to see the film. I usually try to read the book before watching the movie but the circumstances worked against me this time. However, I have already got this book from the library and I am eager to read it. In addition, this is not the first time when Hardy’s novel is adapted into the motion picture – this is the 4th film based on this classical book. 

IMDb summary: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Visual appeal

Victorian England is one of my favorite historical eras, so I really loved the setting and simple but beautiful decorations of this film. Most of the action took place in a rural area which had amazing and breathtaking scenery of nature. The costumes and the hairstyles were also magnificent and true to the historical facts as far as I know.

Directing 

The film is directed by a Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. Sadly, I am not familiar with his work but I really liked what he did in this movie. The cut-to-black transition seemed a bit abrupt sometimes, but they worked well other times, so maybe he should have cut the number of those and revisited their placement. The film’s screenplay was written by David Nicholls – an English novelist and screenwriter. This is not Nicholls’s first time working with classical literature as the main source. He wrote quite a few screenplay’s for BBC adapting Dickens’s, Bronte’s and even Shakespeare’s works to the small screen.

Acting

This movie has a pretty well know and accomplished cast:

Carey Mulligan star as the main character Bathsheba Everdene. I loved how Bathsheba was a strong, independent woman but was still able to be soft on the inside. She was a hopeless romantic and made mistakes in the name of love, but always went back to being a powerful, intelligent and free – an extraordinary occurrence when you considered the time that she lived in. I really enjoyed Mulligan’s performance. Although, my favorite role of hers is still the one in Never Let Me Go – another small British film – a dystopian romance with Keira Knightley and ex-Spider-man Andrew Garfield. Carey was also really good in The Great Gatsby as Daisy. No matter how much you hate the character of Daisy, you cannot not to admit that Mulligan is amazing in that role. Also, as an author and youtuber John Green has said in a Crash Course video on The Great Gatsby – you don’t have to like the character to enjoy the story. Anyway, I went off topic, let’s go back.

Matthias Schoenaerts plays Gabriel Oak – one of 3 love interest of Bathsheba. Gabriel was the most like-able character of the film. His intentions were always pure, his actions – selfless and his words – always truthful. Matthias Schoenaerts did a really nice job. The only other movie of his that I saw was The Loft (the remake version) which I enjoyed, although everybody hated it. I’m interested to see the original Loft where Schoenaerts  plays the same role as in the remake.

Michael Sheen plays William Boldwood – the character who receives the saddest and the most undeserving end. Although, Michael Sheen is a very famous and established actor, I was introduced to him in the Twilight movies. Don’t judge, I was a 12 year old once too. Although, the Volturi family was the best part of that franchise, so maybe it’s not that bad that recognized him from there. I at least know who he is right? Let’s move on.

Tom Sturridge was Sergeant Frank Troy – the last of the love interests. It took me some time to get pass his mustache but his charisma turned him into a definite scene-stealer. Though you could sense that he was bad news, you couldn’t resist him, his smile or his witty tongue.

Juno Temple stared as Fanny Robin – a character who also got an undeserving end. I feel like she was the opposite of Bathsheba – a weaker woman, who depended way too much on the man, Frank Toy to be precise, and, as a result – ended up the way she did (NO SPOILERS). But you can’t really blame her – she was a prisoner of her era and a convict of the circumstances. I would love to see more of actress’s Juno Temple’s work. I have only seen a few movies that she was in and she had really minor roles in those. 2013 Chilean-American psychological thriller Magic Magic seems to be the best option for those, who want to really see what this actress can do.

Music

This movie features a song by Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen, which I really enjoyed and listened quite a few times outside the cinema. You are welcomed to hear it here: Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. I also really loved the opening and closing instrumental tracks as well as the Far From the Madding Crowd Love Theme. You can find all the soundtrack here.

All in all, I really enjoyed this film for many reason, which are stated above in my review. I would love to see this film getting some attention during the awards season, although it is unlikely for that to happen. Anyway, it wins my own personal Oscar, which is much better that any Academy Award or Golden Globe.

Rate 5/5

Trailer: Far From the Madding Crowd trailer

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