For a secret service spy James Bond is possibly the worst undercover agent in the world with every barman knowing him by name how he likes his favourite drink. Red Sparrow suffers a similar problem. Based on the best selling book by Jason Matthews it was packed with his own insider knowledge of CIA working methods. However Red Sparrow’s central character is a well known leading ballet dancer at the Bolshoi ballet who after an onstage accident finds her career immediately ended so obviously life as a spy is next on her career choice list. Living with her ailing mother the money quickly dries up and it’s her shady government employee uncle who finds her work as a Red Sparrow, a real life training school set up by former USSR President Kruschev to train women to use their bodies to seduce men in order for the state to obtain information or bribe and blackmail those hapless enough to fall for them.
What follows for Jennifer Lawrence is training at the Red Sparrow academy or ‘whore school’ as she calls it where under the tutelage of an icy Charlotte Rampling she’s put through a number of unsavoury training scenarios to test her commitment to the state most of which comprises of Lawrence in various states of undress or just plain old naked. For adolescents keen to see more of her than they have of her real life intimate photos leaked onto the internet Red Sparrow will not disappoint but it’s not the same for the rest of us. What follows is a cat and mouse tale of duplicity between her and US agent Joel Edgerton which keeps you guessing right up until the end. Unfortunately that end is two hours and twenty minutes away.
It’s a ponderously plodding thriller with some fascinating insights into the murky world of espionage between countries but this desperately needs to pick up the pace. There were precious few screening s of this for the press on its theatrical release and ultimately the film made $151m off its $69 million production costs. Fans of the book will find several elements missing notably that of Russian President Putin, although Matthias Schoenaert as her uncle does look like a younger version of him, but presumably this was a political decision to prevent Russian hackers getting at the film as did North Korea when The Interview was released in 2014. The film has also moved from 1970’s Russia to modern day Budapest.
Originally intended for Darren Aronfsky to direct it eventually fell to Francis Lawrence who had worked with Jennifer Lawrence on The Hunger Games films and he’s done a competent but uninspiring job here with the tone of the film cut down to secure a 15 certificate. Lawrence has her first nude scene here which is understandable owing to the subject matter of the Red Sparrow training but there is something about it that sits uncomfortably in an age of #MeToo campaigning.
Apart from Charlotte Rampling Red Sparrow has assembled a decent cast of British heavyweights including Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds & Joely Richardson to add some gravitas to the proceedings and all trotting out their, ‘Dah Conmrade!’ Russian accents.
The Blu Ray has a number of extras including the a directors commentary. To this there are a number of featurettes some of which give an interesting insight into the making of the film (A New Cold War, Heart of the Tempest, Sparrow School) whilst Agents Provocateur is the usual backslapping celebration of how wonderful it was to work with each other. For once we’d love to see a featurette with an actor saying much they loathed the rest of cast. There’s an double standard insight from behind the scenes too where the Editor says that his edit suite limited who could go in when he was cutting together the nude scenes which seems odd when the whole was going to be projected to the world on a 70 foot screen on release. Also into the mix is thrown several deleted sense which where excised from an already overlong film.
Red Sparrow has its moments and there’s some well choreographed if brutal fights and though these Red Sparrow agents were trained to use their sexuality as lethally as they do a knife there are some uncomfortable scenes in this. Rumour that this will get a British remake with Rob Brydon and titled ‘Great Tit’ remain unfounded.
RED SPARROW IS OUT ON DVD & BLU RAY on 9th JULY 2018
Here’s the trailer…….