Director Francis Lawrence hasn’t helmed an R-rated film since 2005’s Constantine. It’s like Lawrence has returned with a vengeance with Red Sparrow, uniting him with his Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence (no relation).
Hunger Games was wedged between appeasing a PG-13 fan base while dealing with Battle Royale-level themes. Red Sparrow, however, takes no prisoners as it depicts Cold War tensions in the modern day. Torture, sexual manipulation and a constant sense of mistrust sear nearly every scene.
After a promising career as a state sponsored ballerina goes south due to a broken leg, Lawrence, as Dominika Egorova, finds herself recruited as a “sparrow,” a secret agent whose training emphasizes sexual control of their marks. The preparation is ruthless to the point of losing aspects of basic humanity.
Co-stars include Joel Edgerton as a CIA agent; Mary-Louis Parker and Bill Camp as various American assets; and Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling and Matthias Schoenaerts as Russian operatives, each one more pitiless than the last. The main objective seems to be how to turn a fellow spy against their mother nation. The Americans treat failure with reassignment, while the Russians treat same with pain, intimidation, a skin graft mesher, and, finally, a bullet to the head.
Lawrence uses her acting skills and body language with the same deceitful directness that Egorova uses sexual allure to extract secret information. The cast uses Russian accents to various affectations. By the final surprise reveal you realize Red Sparrow has been surreptitiously giving you clues the entire running length.
Red Sparrow opens wide this weekend.
A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica), the Chilean nominee for this year’s Best Foreign Film, gets to the heart of acceptance in a way that’s sure to resonate with current socially correct manners.
Marina (a bold portrayal from Daniela Vega) finds herself distanced from the family of her much older boyfriend (a real May December romance) when he suddenly dies. It’s in the first reel that we discover Marina is transgender. The family’s reaction ranges from outright prejudice to reluctant reception.
Marina’s banned from the funeral, under investigation by authorities for any possible involvement in the death, and the only family member that really cares for her — the couple’s dog — has been purloined by her lover’s vindictive son.
Director Sebastián Lelio finds poetic images in strong gusts of wind and some of the dog reaction sequences and the usual foreign film ambiguity in a scene involving a locker at a health spa. Lelio has two American language films in the can.
A Fantastic Woman opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.
Other exclusive engagements include The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (at the AMC Studio 30) and Sally Potter’s The Party (AMC Dine-In 8 and Edwards Grand Palace).
The former has decent turns from actors Logan Lerman (also the film’s executive producer), Elle Fanning, Blake Jenner and Kyle Chandler. The main story revolves around Lerman being a prodigious literary talent while still in high school and the emotional events that cause him to be a recluse once he becomes a young adult and best selling author. More unlikely than realistic, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall meanders before a full flame out.
Potter makes cool art films that hit years apart like Orlando (1992), The Tango Lesson (1997), and most recently, Ginger & Rosa (2012). The Party has an excellent cast just ready for an emotional psychodrama that takes place in a single house.
Some very contrasting black-and-white photography lets the viewer engage in the film as if it was perhaps a Joseph Losey or Mike Nichols film from the 1960s. That’s to say there’s a constant feeling that all the characters are engaged against one another. Some of the motivations are political and others romantic. The theatricality of the small space, and slightly larger than life performances, starts out like Chekhov (a gun is introduced) and progresses to the kind of dysfunction peculiar to Albee.
Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall topline the impressive ensemble cast.