BEIRUT: In an age filled with what seems to be constant deception, whether it be from mass media, politicians, or social media, films that trigger Cold War Era paranoia are the perfect cherry on top of the manipulative sundae.
Based on the best-seller and the foundation of a trilogy, James Matthews’s Red Sparrow is the latest in Hollywood’s attempt of launching a successful film series based on a book series starring actors who have headlined box office successes.
The narrative follows Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who has a terrible – though premeditated – accident, and leaves her career with the Bolshoi only to be forced into a state-run school that trains young candidates in sexual, psychological, and physical manipulation.
To start, this is not your typical modernized action-packed espionage film; this is a film of class, intellect, and mind games.
This is not a shoot’em up video game where the operatives are smashing cars and shooting machine guns, this is a psychological game of chess.
With a novel as dense as this, screenwriter Justin Haythe had a massive challenge ahead of him. Novel to screenplay adaptations don’t always work it out but both Haythe and director Francis Lawrence allowed the characters to take control, and ensured that the content felt really organic to the story.
The brilliance about this narrative is in its focus on character arcs and how they are in fact driving every event that occurs in the narrative.
Each character is in fact balancing or struggling with two things: survival and seduction, though in terms of seduction it differs from character to character, which keeps things engaging and unpredictable.
Cinematographically, the film is beautiful to witness – with some rather gorgeous images by director of photography Jo Willems.
Willems uses a very cold and grey image giving emphasis on anything red, an echo of the film’s title as well as symbolically a color that signifies temptation, anger, and blood.
The film’s erotic nature is a difficult task to both director and cinematographer in not objectifying its female lead, yet the narrative’s rules of seduction and sexuality become an ally in this instance and offer those behind the film a bit of leniency.
Instead of glorifying the violence, the film instead causes even the most immune audience member to cringe but exhibits the violence without crossing the line.
The film’s cinematic rhythm does contrast with a lot recent films by being quite slow but this again plays to one of its strengths.
The cast is rather interesting.
Jennifer Lawrence, giving her best attempt at a Russian accent, carries the film rather well and portrays the powerful yet vulnerable Dominika.
Joel Edgerton falls a bit flat here and there is a slight lacking in chemistry between the two leads, yet that does not affect the overall strength of the film.
The surrounding cast of spies from the great Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons as General Korchnoi, to Charlotte Rampling committed performance as the Matron at Sparrow School, they all ground the world of Red Sparrow, and fit perfectly into their roles.
James Newton Howard delivers another spell-binding score that only breathes more life into the already complex narrative.
Opening the film with an eleven-minute track entitled Overture to its nine-minute End Titles track, the film’s entire score functions more like a score to a ballet, with a verdant and seductive symphony that musically narrates the tragic tale of Dominika Egorova.
A film about trust, loyalty, patriotism, sexuality, and survival, Red Sparrow is more content and less spectacle; and in an era of mundane blockbusters, films of this nature are and should be most welcomed.
The film is a must-watch for those who seek the cinema to be challenged, to be pushed, and to be taken into a world of deception, lies, and manipulation instead of being dumbed down by films that only seek to entertain.
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