“Red Sparrow” film review

Intense. Riveting. Spine-tingling, A masterful spy thriller crafted in a classical fashion with sex appeal. Red Sparrow will harness your full attention from the opening. Directed by Francis Lawrence, this spy movie is the level of excitement that 2015’s Bridge of Spies wished it was. Whereas many espionage movies fail to develop a plot that keeps you guessing from beginning to end–allowing you to feel like a covert operative or detective–this film delivers a mesmerizing story filled with intriguing characters and close calls. In many ways, this film contains elements that could be likened to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller with influences from Billy Wilder and David Fincher. Jennifer Lawrence displays an uncanny performance that truly shows the versatility of the Oscar-winning actress. With tensions rising between the US and Russia in real life, this films comes at a perfect time because we may find ourselves in a cold war that’s reminiscent of the latter part of the 20th century. Not for those who are weak in the stomach, this film contains cringy visceral horror that will get under your skin. Without the need to rely on science-fiction gadgetry to carry the story, this film provides well-developed characters and an intriguing plot that’s filled with twists and turns.

Prima Bolshoi Ballet ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is faced with a bleak and uncertain future following a severe career-ending injury while on stage performing. Her high-ranking uncle persuades her to attend Sparrow School: an institution that trains seductive spies in order to pry information from targets by using extreme sensuality. Sparrows turn their minds and bodies into weapons for the state. Being determined to remain special, Dominika completes the sadistic training more quickly than the other students and is recruited for a covert assignment to track and report on an American CIA operative (Joel Edgerton) who Russia feels will lead them to the mole within their own ranks.

The beautiful opening of Red Sparrow is abruptly ended when Dominika suffers a horrific injury that instantly ends her ballet career. This acutely intense moment will cut you directly to the bone–you will undoubtedly wince or cringe, feel the break in your own legs. This is but a taste of what is to come throughout the movie. In an exquisite fashion, the gorgeous dance at the opening is juxtaposed against the alleged drug deal gone bad. Paralleling one another, the event that unfolds concurrently enable the plot to get a quickly paced fantastic start out the gate. Unfortunately, this excellent start does lead into a slower paced latter half of Act I. However, there is important background information that is revealed during Act I that foreshadows and sets up the remainder of the turning points in the plot. You will also notice the use of the color red in many places during the movie. Analyzing the shades of, and placement of the crimson hue has the potential to generate conversations between cinephiles.

The color red is not the only symbol in the movie that can be analyzed; there is a theme of your body belonging to the state. Essentially, this can be read as a commentary on celebrity. As a prima ballerina, Dominika’s body was weaponized for the stage and figuratively belonged to the Bolshoi and by extension to the public. Much in the same way her Sparrow weaponized body literally belongs to The State. It’s her body, but the Bolshoi and The State determine her career. But she is determined to not allow herself to become a commodity that can be abandoned, traded, or punished. This can be said about conventional celebrities and the public. In a manner of speaking, the public decides whether or not you are worth seeing on screen and how you should behave. Back during the days of the Studio System, this was a big problem because the Studio controlled your image, who you dated, slept with, when/if you had kids, your marriage, and more. There was mass exploitation in that system, and one of the reasons why it was ended. The empowering message of rebelling against The State, who is determined to own you and your body, can be witnessed through the covert actions of Dominika.

In the grand Hitchcockian fashion, there is a lot of suspense that increases tension but does not always provide a release. Though Hitch would have handled the level and pacing of the suspense more perfectly, you can read his famous bomb theory in Red Sparrow. Hitchcock knew how to take a two-dimensional situation and find a third-dimensional approach to impress the audiences and hold firm their attention. And to the film’s credit, there are a few times that the level of suspense coupled with the symphonic score channels Hitch. Unlike many spy movies that rely too heavily on a love story, the film brilliantly leaves you wondering whether or not Lawrence and Edgerton are in love or rather it is a facade employed in order to extract vital information for their respective allegiances. The level of romance and eroticism is just enough to add the sex-appeal to the relationship without the movie becoming about the romance between two individuals who serve two opposing countries.

Not for the faint of heart, there are some incredibly intense moments in the film that might make you queasy in the stomach. But the movie chooses to place more emphasis on the action, plot, and characters more so than that which threatens your eye. It’s certainly a new breed of spy movie, but it’s one that is incredibly interesting and will hold your attention for the more than 2hr runtime.

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“13 Hours” movie review

13 HoursAn excellent depiction of what happened on that fearful day, but poorly shown cinematically. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the latest Michael Bay film. Like a true Michael Bay experience, he wows audiences with spectacular battle scenes, stunning visual effects and sound design, and massive explosions; but, with that comes a sloppily handled ensemble cast, underdeveloped pacing and structure. Even though it was at first surprising that a Michael Bay film was getting a January (cinema graveyard) release, after screening it Tuesday night, it is evident why it received this slot versus a summer release. Although we are still learning about and experiencing the ramifications of what happened on that September evening, even though this movie definitely lacked in overall direction, I feel strongly that with what limited information has been released regarding this tragedy, Bay was able to translate the news footage, transcriptions, and government documentation to the screen in terms of capturing the visceral horror and terror that befell the CIA, special operations teams, and the Libyan Ambassador.

Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is about the tragic events in September 2012 that caused the deaths of an ambassador, CIA personnel, and ex-military special operations stationed in classified compounds in the Libyan capital of Benghazi. Get a glimpse into what it must have felt like to experience one of the most horrific tragedies since September 11, 2001. In this biographical war thriller, go behind radical, militant Islamic enemy lines and follow a band of six soldiers who took the initiative and disobeyed orders in a valiant effort to rescue US CIA and Consulate personnel from certain death.

Given that this is–or at least seems to be–an accurate depiction of the attack on the US Consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi, one of the most conspicuous absences is any mention of President Obama or then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obviously this film was not produced to evaluate the actions of the President and Secretary of State, their respective roles in this attach are indirectly an important element to the narrative of the film that should have at least been mentioned. When a filmmaker, especially one of Michael Bay’s caliber, takes on the daunting task of translating a real war-time event to the silver screen, it is important to include the notable individuals who contributed to the success or failure. Knowing that the focus of this film was on the six ex-military special forces, it was not necessary to focus on the Presidential cabinet’s actions, or lack thereof. Still, it should have been included on some level.

Like with any Michael Bay film, you are going to get amazing cinematography, visual effects, sound editing, and EXPLOSIONS; but, this biographical thriller lacks adequate pacing and plot structure. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the audience will feel any strong emotional connection to any of the characters in the ensemble cast. One thing is for sure, most people watching this movie will definitely hate the enemy. But, a movie like this one needs to go beyond a nearly unified hatred of the radical, militant Islamic terrorists and cause the audience to develop strong feelings and connections with the central characters. Despite having a slight connection to one of the soldiers due to witnessing his interactions with his family back in the States, Bay fails to further develop him or the other characters in terms of growing the relationship between the characters and the audience. Although there are deaths of great significance in this movie, it is likely that none of them will be tearful or pull at one’s heartstrings.

I feel that this film had potential to be another American Sniper or Saving Private Ryan but failed to include the emotional connection to the central characters and appropriately pace the film. It really isn’t the narrative in and of itself that is lacking–there is certainly a good story there–but the poor pacing and underdeveloped characters combine to occasionally cause the audience to feel lost in the events. Thankfully the film includes timestamps and locations to help the audience follow the course of events that lead up to the attack on the consulate. The sheer realism of the attack is incredibly impressive. There are even some shots that look very similar to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Bay was successful at effectively combining the best of practical and visual effects to create an immersive experience for the audience.

Whether you come from the position that the CIA showed rampant incompetence, coupled with a lack of action from the President’s cabinet or you feel equally strongly that the CIA and President’s cabinet made the best decisions they could with the information they had, this film brings a recent war-time tragedy to life for the silver screen. You will definitely feel like you are in the midst of the action and get a feeling for what it must have been like for the soldiers to go against orders from the CIA to do what they felt was the right thing. For those who appreciate and thoroughly enjoy military or war movies, then this film is definitely for you. Because of the fantastic technical direction of the film, it is one that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Despite the fact that it definitely has areas in which it greatly lacks, it is definitely visually driven and communicates this attack with realism.