“Red Sparrow” is like some of the Cold War thrillers they made in the 90s but with higher resolution and a female lead. It takes to task the idea of power and uses it as a structure mechanism for Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominica, a Sparrow forced into duty at the hands of an ultimately paradoxical but conniving uncle played by Matthias Schoenaerts who is Deputy Director for the State Service in Russia. The movie has a classical beauty to it and understands the sides it is playing. It is new territory for Lawrence for certain, embracing the power of manipulation and sexuality in concert with the mind. But the inherent texture is that her character never loses sight in what she is doing by either manipulating the audience, her would-be captors or her would-be manipulators on either side. The essence ultimately is that she gets to live her life above suspicion but inherently lonely. There are essences of “La Femme Nikita” and even the more recent “The Villainess” at Cannes. However the pull of Dominica’s loyalties is never quite clear despite that this is part of the construct. Where does the innocence end and the manipulation begin? The genius at times of Lawrence in this movie is that she can switch in the midst of a scene from one side to another. There were brief glimpses of it in “XMen: First Class” but as she grows older it becomes more pronounced. She can never truly disappear, but like Sharon Stone before her, she can walk the line with inherent control.
“Red Sparrow” is ultimately not about resolution but survival in many ways and the bereft elements of character that betray those in the business of espionage who want more than their country will give. Joel Edgerton plays an American CIA officer who gives just enough emotional weight to believe that Dominica might be able to escape. But ultimately the grounded angle comes in the form of Jeremy Irons, an iconoclast of these multi tiered characters from “The Mission” to “Reversal Of Fortune” to “Dead Ringers” who allows just the right amount of plot support to make it work. The key essence of a spy in all elements is that you don’t know they are a spy even if they tell you so, whether you are seducing for information or telling a mark specifically what they want to hear. The music within the movie inherently beginning with the ballet at the beginning precludes the fall which is interestingly enough a parallel to “Black Swan” which was more bathed in metaphor. “Red Sparrow” is told with a straight forward texture while the murky nature of its characters snakes underneath with a taste of dread. It doesn’t rely on large car chases to make its point but in close contact with scenes that bite and allow for the understanding of characters that perhaps have no choice but one.
By Tim Wassberg
“Shutter Island” is more than meets the eye. Besieged by a pushing in release date from last October to this March, this new Scorsese/DiCaprio pairing is more abstract and less straightforward than their earlier collaborations. It has tinges of indulgences from “Age Of Innocence” in addition to its adaptation roots but unlike the other films made of Dennis Lehane’s books like “Mystic River” or “Gone Baby Gone”, this incarnation is more dreamlike. DiCaprio is effective and more in tune along the lines of raw emotionality than he was even in “Revolutionary Road”. However, there is a lack of connection between him and co-star Michelle Williams despite Leo’s best intentions. What most stands out across the board is the use of classical music instead of a normal score. It definitely gives the picture a different feel. The music supervision was done by Robbie Robertson who also wrote the music for “Ladder 49”. What might be coincidental is that in addition to a foghorn sounding overture in the beginning, the music seems to have been pulled from “The Shining” which gives the initial 20 minutes a bit of a Stanley Kubrick feel. However, as the film moves along, there is almost an arch of overplaying that takes one slightly out of the picture. The reveal at the end is, of course, an interesting one and motivates the entire picture making it indelicatable upon repeat viewings.
In the featurette “Into The Lighthouse” author Lehane talks about the book being a response to post-9/11 thoughts which in certain ways had parrallels to McCarthyism. Another interesting inclusion is consultant James Gilligan who talks about his experience at a mental hospital and the differences between old and new psychology methods. These long featurettes actually get in depth on the aspect of why lobotomy was adopted and the perceptions which fuel certain backgrounds in the picture. The other featurette “Behind The Shutters” which also runs about 20 minutes has lengthy background info including Ruffalo, DiCaprio and Scorsese and takes into account the actual reveal (these behind-the-scenes elements have disclaimers about spoilers as well). They knew, perhaps in some ways similar to “Fight Club”) that they would need to usher the audience in many ways through the narrative to understand its complexity, “Shutter Island” is, in many ways, successful but in others a hard sell which is an interesting conundrum though it is interesting seeing Scorsese work this angle. Another very interesting tidbit is that Elias Koteas, who plays a version of the character Latteus, has such a DeNiro type effectation that you almost mistake him for the legend as a young actor. I thought almost initially they did motion capture on DeNiro but that would make no sense. “Shutter Island”, in all ways, is an interesting exercise. Out of 5, I give the BD a 3.