Red Sparrow

Year: 2018
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker

WRITTEN BY: CHRIS GELDERD

This 2018 American spy thriller, directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons.

Following a career-ending injury, former Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is offered a new life and a new place in society to help both her country and continue to care for her sick mother. Her uncle Ivan (Schoenaerts) sends her to train with Russian intelligence to become a ‘Sparrow’ – a covert spy.

Ivan is working alongside General Korchnoi (Irons) and Colonel Zacharov (Hinds) to observe known CIA operative Nate Nash (Edgerton) who is working with a mole in the Russian government. It is Nash who Dominika, fully trained, is assigned to in order to gain his trust and find the mole.

But Nash feels Dominika wasn’t born to serve the state – he offers her a chance to act as a double agent and help the CIA bring down a traitor in their own agency and end corruption within the Russian government. The fate of nations rests on just who Dominika will pledge her allegiance to…

With a title akin to that of a John Le Carré novel and evoking such celluloid thrillers such as ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ or, most recently, ‘Atomic Blonde’, this espionage thriller doesn’t attempt to re-write the genre, but it does attempt to set it out of the usual template we are used to and on the whole it works because of it.

Jennifer Lawrence only appears on my radar thanks to the ‘X-Men’ universe and her role as shape-shifter Mystique. I’ve never seen ‘Hunger Games’ and a few of her other roles have cropped up, but don’t linger in my conscious for long after the credits roll. For the first time, I think she has nailed a role for mature audiences and gives a pretty good stab at things. From the ballet which she deftly carries out, to the basic Hollywood-Russian accent (could be worse) and the way she handles herself with quiet confidence and fragile emotion, Lawrence thankfully let me forget her otherwise annoyingly brattish, egotistical and otherwise simply self-centred attitude off camera to invest in her mature Dominika, a world away from American Lawrence, for these 2 hours.

Sharing the spotlight is the poor man’s (or some now say rich man’s) Jeremy Renner in the guise of Joel Edgerton. The man can act just fine, and he constantly gives himself to the material on offer to pull out a good performance. Here his CIA agent Nate Nash goes up against both Russian and American governments to be the spy we can at least have faith in fighting the good fight. He’s likeable and keeps things moving with his urgency and determination to break down an unbreakable Sparrow, which leaves his character in a good position as you always question if he’s going to make it to the end credits without being double-crossed or killed.

The supporting cast also nail their performances and carry over the accents that Hollywood teaches them for Russian officials and agents. Jeremy Irons is at his brooding, menacing best here but still somehow feels under-used, which is a shame because his role could be that of Simon Gruber 20 years later. Matthias Schoenaerts has an aura about him you feel comfortable yet uneasy about during his screen time which is exactly what is needed, and Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, and Joely Richardson offer their veteran talent to flesh out a cast who you can really get behind and see their pieces in the puzzle.

Story-wise, the film (from the novel remember) doesn’t try to give us anything too complex or ground-breaking which is what I want in these things. I want something that has worked for years and years, just presented in a fresh way. It’s these factors that lifted ‘Red Sparrow’ into something much more enjoyable than if it had been a carbon-copy of what we’ve seen before where even the cast couldn’t have elevated things with their tools.

The opening minutes are some of the most well shot and scored moments I’ve seen recently. Simple, but effective. The haunting and powerful music by James Newton Howard and cinematography by Jo Willems introduces us without the need for dialogue to paint a post-Cold War Russia and America, present-day countries that are rife with corruption and covert counter intelligence, more relevant than ever in our President Trump era.

The look and sound of ‘Red Sparrow’ is both beautiful and grim at the same time. The elegance and pride bleed off the screen when we see the glory of Mother Russia, but in a heartbeat turns to a dark and working-class world were nothing can guarantee your safety in the eyes of spies. Moscow, London, and Budapest are stunning cities and the perfect backdrop to the staged spy game, and nothing is really held back by director Francis Lawrence. It’s a mature film for mature audiences; it doesn’t shy away from the violence and brutality, yet is never gratuitous. There is nothing we don’t see, hear or feel that isn’t important to our characters and story, and plenty of moments had me wincing and grimacing in my seat. And it was brilliant. Just the reaction I wanted from a film shying away from watering down content for young audiences.

And as for the idea of exploitation of women, I for one found the sexual slant of this story tasteful and powerful and respectful to both Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal and that of women in general. With a tidal wave sweeping through Hollywood about equality, the idea of using one’s body as a weapon initially seems to U-turn the movement, but actually, it is a raw and natural thing for these hard-edged and brutal spies to do. The mind and body is a weapon, and we are reminded that through brilliant training sequences from the delicious 007 Rosa Klebb-esque Charlotte Rampling.

The male targets come across as single-minded and stupid and blind to everything around them when presented with a suggestive glimpse of flesh or wandering hand. Lawrence plays it perfectly and never looks or feels exploited, at least in my opinion. It’s a harsh, brutal world of covert intelligence set in a totally different world than the West understands, and so in that respect, it makes perfect sense and easily throws us out of our comfort zone.

It’s these elements that drag it above standard American-based thrillers. While the story sags a little in the middle, easily allowing us to shave a good 10 minutes off the talky-talky moments, the flow is bookended with tight sequences that offer thrills, tension and bloody action without ever having to feel they need to resort to loud, physics-defying shoot-outs, car chases or dumb action sequences.

It’s a grounded and down to earth film with a climax you may or may not see coming as the pieces fall into place, but it’s done in a neat way that you’ll be happy with if you’ve enjoyed the journey through the beauty and danger of Capitalist West v Communist East.

CHRIS’ RATING: 9/10

Looks Can Be Deceiving In A Brand New ‘Red Sparrow’ Trailer

“Dominika Egorova is many things. A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs. A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit. A master of seductive and manipulative combat.”

Directed By: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Matthias Schoenaerts

Release Date: 2nd March 2018

 

Explosive New ‘Justice League’ Trailer Has Arrived!

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, J.K. Simmons
Release Date: 17th November 2017

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We’re All In For The Brand New ‘Justice League’ Trailer

“Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.”

Directed By: Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Amber Heard, Ciarán Hinds
Release Date: 17th November 2017

First Trailer For ‘Red Sparrow’ Lands Online!

“Dominika Egorova is many things. A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs. A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit. A master of seductive and manipulative combat.

When she suffers a career-ending injury, Dominika and her mother are facing a bleak and uncertain future. That is why she finds herself manipulated into becoming the newest recruit for Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people like her to use their bodies and minds as weapons.

After enduring the perverse and sadistic training process, she emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced. Dominika must now reconcile the person she was with the power she now commands, with her own life and everyone she cares about at risk, including an American CIA agent who tries to convince her he is the only person she can trust.”

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons
Release Date: 2nd March 2018

Which Alfred Is The Best?

Written by Patrick Alexander

Much hullabaloo has been made in the recent weeks, months and years as to where Ben Affleck does, has and will stack up in the overall Batman role sphere. Is he better than Christian Bale? Probably not. He’s got to be better than Michael Keaton, right? A push, maybe. Yeah, but he kicks Val Kilmer’s butt? Definitely. However, forget being caught up in the endless debate over Affleck’s position on Mt. Batmore, inevitably carved out of the wet walls of the Batcave. We’re here today to talk about the butler of all butlers, Albert Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, and where his various portrayals in film and television stack up. 

First, a little history about Alfred. As any comic book nerd will tell you, Albert hails from Great Britain, having been a highly skilled British Intelligence Operative, making him the perfect guardian to protect young Bruce Wayne from the cruelties of a dark Gotham City. Outside of being the most overqualified babysitter and tea-man in the world – from his expertise in domestic sciences to his proficiency with mechanical and computer systems – Alfred always had Batman’s back, even putting his emergency medical acumen to work numerous times to save Master Wayne’s life. So where do the representations of the legendary chamberlain stack up? Let’s find out.


 

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5. Jeremy Irons 
Films: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The latest enactment of Alfred left much to be desired. While his role is scant in the new DC universe picture, Irons does flex his proficiency with mechanical and computer operating systems, helping Batfleck out several times, such as taking control of the Batplane whilst Batman has to skydive smash through a wall to go kick some criminal butts. Irons certainly looked the part as an aged and tired Alfred, ready to give up the reins to his care of Wayne Manor, finding his role rather diminished as Master Bruce had aged gracefully into a Kryptonite induced mid-life crisis. However, there is hope yet for Mr. Irons with ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ pictures in production, and the possibility of appearing in solo Batfleck movies, we could still see Irons and his Alfred ascend this list.


 

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4. Michael Gough
Films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin

Gough carried nearly a decade’s worth of the Alfred torch, spanning the runs of Keaton, Kilmer, and lastly, George Clooney. Whilst Gough never portrayed the more tactical and eternally youthful former military man version of Alfred, Gough served his role as Batman’s foremost confidant in an ever-changing Gotham universe. The most dapper of this list, Gough seemed to always be there with a joke, or to light up a smoke when Master Wayne needed it most. Despite a heralded four film run, spanning three different Batmen, Gough’s finest hour, perhaps, might have been this 1990’s Diet Coke advert


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3. Alan Napier
TV Series: Batman 

A throwback to the 1960s live action television series that any older American male can remember watching, spliced into the Saturday morning cartoons. Napier’s portrayal might well have been the most savvy in the pre-super-darkness era of Gotham. Napier’s lighthearted portrayal – before Batman got uber-techie – won hearts as Batman and Robin’s main man (servant). During a storied, three season, 120 episode run, Napier had the Batphone on lock down, always promptly answering and alerting Batman to the dangers of Gotham. Indubitably things got easier once they invented sonar tracking devices and advanced communication platforms, including computers, so it’s hard to say if Napier’s Alfred would have made it in the modern era.


Sean Pertwee

2. Sean Pertwee
TV Series: Gotham

Pertwee makes a strong case for the title belt here, combatting his way onto the Alfred scene. The youngest Alfred to date, known for protecting the young Bruce Wayne in the immediate aftermath of his parent’s demise, Pertwee’s protective instincts for young Bruce and his knack for continuously felling the villains of Gotham come in handy, as Bruce has yet to fully realise or actualise his future as the bodyguard of Gotham. The ‘Gotham’ TV series has been praised as a hot new show from Fox, and it’s casting of Pertwee really delivers, from Wayne Manor brawls with former British Intelligence Operative pals (psychopaths), to always putting himself in harm’s way to shield Master Wayne from the lurking evils of Gotham’s craziest menaces.


Michael Caine

1. Michael Caine
Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises

Let’s be honest though, we all know Michael Caine is the greatest of all time when it comes to Alfred. Readily beside Christian Bale’s side through the best installment of the Batman franchise, his fame through association certainly buffers his ranking. Competent in (all too often) medical procedures, Alfred never wavers in his faith of Master Wayne as mainly a confidant and ally in his later years. Despite lacking the fighting ability other Alfreds reveal, Caine had perhaps the most quotable Alfred because he understood his role in Wayne’s life as a father figure better than any other. In ‘Batman Begins’, after the house burns down, Wayne belittles Alfred in a rough way saying: “why do you give a damn, Alfred? It’s not your family”. Caine replies in a manner representative of the Alfred who got it most, “I give a damn, because a good man once made me responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world”. Beautiful, Michael.