After closing the dystopian trilogy of The Hunger Games, Francis Lawrence embarks with Red Sparrow in a particularly marked genre: espionage. A big gap that he has trouble controlling.
The spy film is intimately linked to the literature associated with it. It must be said that the genre has always been able to find readers, depending on the large or small-scale conflicts that tore the twentieth century apart. However, some of the adaptations of authors as recognized as John le Carré, Ludlum or Clancy did not lead to great films. This is very often explained by the difficulty that directors have to free themselves or not from certain aspects of the written work.
A majority of them are content to dilute the narrative with action scenes that keep the viewer’s attention. Process assumed (and appreciated by the public) by sagas like James Bond or Jason Bourne , who have chosen to deliver a fantasized version of the spy work, bringing him closer to a member of the commando team than to a discreet man. This vision was nevertheless counterbalanced by other great successes such as Secret Conversation , La Taupe or even Zero Dark Thirty , which hint at the tedious work of simple office agents.
Adapted from Jason Matthew’s bestseller, Red Sparrow tells us the story of a Cold War that definitely never ended. After an accident on the stage, Dominika Egorova, a Bolshoi star dancer (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced to work for her uncle (Mr. Schoenaerts), a senior officer of the Russian secret service. She then becomes an expert in psychological manipulation, and is commissioned to seduce an American agent capable of delivering to her a traitor within the Kremlin. But their special relationship quickly arouses suspicion.
Red Sparrow is a film that amazes, but not always for the right reasons. Despite a scenario that smacks of the B series, Francis Lawrence refuses to deliver the mainstream and sanitized production that his trailer left waiting for. Quickly, he makes the public understand that it will be a mature show, mixed with sex and violence.
Despite a rather lively first half hour, the staging falls back quite quickly into classicism. We are entitled to some interesting travelings and wide shots, but the whole is often content with an endless field / reverse shot during the dialogues. This relative sobriety is also due to the fact that no major action scene occurs during these two and a half hours. The director can nevertheless count on a cast of confirmed actors.
Lawrence and Edgerton are accompanied by sacred monsters like Charlotte Rampling or Jeremy Irons, who, despite everything, have a hard time making us believe that they are Russian. Only Mathias Schoenaerts and his air of a young Putin manages to remain coherent in the face of the strangely Slavic beauty of Lawrence. We deplore all the same too big variations in accents for the whole to appear perfectly plausible. With language being the main focus of the film’s attention, the use of Russophile actors could have added a touch of credibility to the whole.
Francis Lawrence tries to infuse it with a solid, but predictable storyline. By keeping the mystery on the true intentions of his heroine to his spectators, he leaves them in suspense. Is Dominika trying to infiltrate the Americans, work for them, or just save her skin?
If this scenario postulate is interesting enough not to take a nosedive, we regret that the mission given to it by the Kremklin is so little put forward. We thus sail between encrypted phone calls, the beginning of romance and the exchange of computer floppy disks (in 2018) without any geopolitical support coming to support the point. The stormy relations between the two countries allowed it, however.
As if to revive the public’s attention, the director relaunches his plot by mistreating his actress. Beaten, raped, tortured, nothing is spared Jennifer Lawrence. This daring is so rare in this kind of production that it keeps you going for the first hour.
Subsequently, these scenes serve more as a palliative to a story that purrs than anything else. The spy film quickly turns into a thriller with voyeuristic accents, where sex and abuse help to unblock the situation. In this little game, the Russians are obviously presented as the most gifted in the face of law-abiding Americans.
The heart of the film thus seems to repeat this pattern every quarter of an hour. Justin Haythe’s screenplay ( Les Noces rebelles , A Cure for Life …) therefore fails to give meaning to the events.
It is all the more unfortunate that the end is particularly successful and skillfully redistributes the cards for a potential sequel. The Lawrence (s) have found the right atmosphere, but in the future it will be necessary to strengthen the narration.