Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Egerton
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Rating: ***(three stars)
Coincidentally the female heroes in both the releases this week are subjected to sadism and self-flagellation by what we refer to as a stern rebuke to sexism, as the male gaze.
In the haunting Hindi film Pari Anushka Sharma is chained, whipped, thrown violently to the ground and made into an ideal candidate for a trauma center. Jennifer Lawrence in this week’s big Hollywood film is a woman on the mission who gets into a torrent of emission.
And I do mean that in a sexual way. Hard up for money and in dire need of financial help to tend to her seriously ailing mother(played by Joely Richardson, daughter to the legendary Vanessa Redgrave) Dominika Egoroka becomes a Russian spy.
In case you haven’t already guess from the heroine’s name, Red Sparrow is set in the forbidding ominous politically charged Russia where, if the movies are to be believed, intrigue and conspiracy are a way of life. We recently saw Charlize Theron don a steely seductiveness in Atomic Blonde. Jennifer Lawrence’s spy act is far more vulnerable. She brings in an element of tenderness to the ongoing brutality, like an adamant chef who slips in a green vegetable dish at a meat banquet.
Dominika is introduced into the dark inescapable world of spying and seduction(not in that order) at a finishing school for potential whores.Pardon the language. But “whore school” is how Jennifer Lawrence describes her training ground for orgasmic nirvana.The guru is played by that amazing British actress Charlotte Ramping who last stole our hearts in Ritesh Batra’s underwhelming The Sense Of An Ending.Here Ms Ramping seeks a different kind of ending for her followers.
As Ms Lawrence goes through a series of not-so-charming adventures in espionage kingdom, we get to meet some truly remarkable actors including Jeremy Irons and Joel Edgerton and the long-time-no-see Mary Louise Parker. All of these brave actors have something to add to Dominika’s strange and seductive story told by a director whose virility of vision is matched by his leading lady’s proclivity to infuse vulnerability into sadism.
Early in the largely-gripping plot Dominika , injured and shunned from her life as a ballerina, storms into her dancing partner’s sex romp and clubs both the offenders to death. It is a defining moment of physical violence underscoring the emotional upheavals that Dominika would have to weather before she stymies the storm.
Red Sparrow is being compared with the silly and puerile Atomic Blonde. But this is a far more profound study of exploitative sex and state-sponsored seduction where young men and women are taught to lose all their inhibitions for the sake of the country. Only, the sex may not be for as noble a cause as the State actors claim.
There is a constant throw of throwbacks in the narrative reminding us that the Cold War, Kremlin and the KGB have come a long way since James Bond embraced John La Carre. Red Sparrow is strong seductive and scintillating in its brutal candour on sexual gratification. The camera prowls the lush unkempt locations with predatory urgency. While the actors act out their characters’ karma in a mood of resigned irony. In a classroom for sex training a young man is called up and asked to go naked . He strips completely and stands with his entire body exposed to the camera, as Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika cowers at the sheer brazenness required from her for the job.
Getting naked for the camera is nothing new for Jennifer Lawrence. She did it in her last film Mother! where she was brutalized to an insane degree. Red Sparrow is no less prone to violating the woman hero. Some would say it’s the bigoted male gaze. I would rather believe it’s the sign of the times. The more we speak of equality of the sexes, the more the sex comes in the way.