Thursday, March 1, 2018

IS JENNIFER LAWRENCE'S CAREER IN THE GULAG WITH THE PULPY "RED SPARROW"?


Jennifer Lawrence needs a new agent. She’s the biggest movie star on the planet, the recipient of an Oscar and three other nominations at 27, and the actress has demonstrated a flair for drama, comedy, and adventure. So why has she been starring in one clumsy film after another? Her latest is RED SPARROW, and while it looks lush and expensive, its overwrought, crazy violent, and ridiculously sexist. After all those lame HUNGER GAMES sequels, the trite PASSENGERS, and the pretentious MOTHER! Jennifer Lawrence needs projects that use her talents, not abuse them.

Granted, Lawrence goes for broke in RED SPARROW. She does a thick Russian accent, plays against type as a remote and vicious killer/spy/chanteuse, and the young actress is apparently doing a ton of her own stunt work in this action-packed thriller. Lawrence also appears nude in numerous scenes, commits wholly to the intensity required for the many torture scenes, and knows how to descend a staircase to make any runway model cringe with envy. Lawrence never phones it in, even when she’s promoting a film, and she’s been everywhere online and off hawking this one.

But why is she in it? This is the type of films that Jennifer Lopez or Halle Berry kept doing before one god-awful thriller after another ground their careers into the dirt. Lawrence could do anything she wants practically and can greenlight virtually any project. She could play Maggie in a revival of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF on Broadway if she wanted to, or snare the Shailene Woodley role in BIG LITTLE LIES on HBO if desired, but she chooses a sub-par political potboiler like this instead? RED SPARROW even seems like a blatant attempt at kickstarting a brand new franchise with Lawrence rendering a modern-day Mata Hari, but why another series? She has already done four HUNGER GAMES and four X-MEN films. The last thing she needs to do is kick more ass onscreen.

This espionage tale did show promise in its first 30 minutes before drowning in complexity and vulgarity. Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina named Dominika who is forced to become a spy after a freak accident ends her dancing days. Faced with a sick mother (Joely Richardson) in need of constant medical care, Dominika falls under the spell of evil Uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), a spymaster who wants her to help the government nail enemies of the state. And in short order, a slew of accomplished actors like Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Bill Camp, and Ciaran Hinds show up in supporting roles making it seem like this will be a thinking man's thriller.

But then Dominika is carted off to spy school to become a "Sparrow." What it really is, as Dominika complains, is “Whore school.” (Perhaps she said, “High school.” I wasn't sure with Lawrence's pouty take on that Russian accent.) There, Dominika is expected to learn to drop trou at a moment’s notice, have sex in front of the class, and submit to horny male students who feel the need to rape in the showers. Lawrence is placed nude in these scenes, and it’s a bit shocking to see the ginormous star so exposed in such a churlish way. 

The luridness of that tone starts to turn this from RED SPARROW into something more like RED SHOE DIARIES. Soon the film will make even more missteps and dial up the violence with a lot of excruciatingly unnecessary bloodletting. You expect death in such thrillers, but does anybody want to see peeled flesh rolling off the body during two elongated, torture scenes?  Now, we’ve moved from RED SHOE DIARIES to something more along the lines of RED DRAGON. Ugh. Why are Hannibal Lecter style grotesqueries in a Jennifer Lawrence movie? 

In the month of more #MeToo, #TimesUp, Emma Gonzalez, and the Dora Milaje regiment in BLACK PANTHER, it seems particularly tin-eared for a movie like this to basically turn Dominika into nothing more than sex bait for all the other spies around her. Her boss, other agents, recruits - they all treat her as so much meat, and even the torturers want to slice her pretty thin. Why couldn’t the character have been more like George Smiley? Instead, the film merely wants Dominika to be a sexy pawn in its sour game of cat & mouse with the Americans.

And despite putting Lawrence in one slinky costume after another, the film makes a major miscalculation in giving her the most atrocious bangs this side of Jim Carrey in DUMB AND DUMBER. They cover her eyebrows in at least half the movie and render her face almost expressionless at times. When one of modern cinema’s most expressive visages fights to even be seen, something is terribly wrong with those handling the career of this superstar.

After Lawrence’s stunning breakthrough in WINTER’S BONE in 2010, she was cast in a lot of prestige projects that, despite being terrific films, actually miscast her. She was easily a decade too young for her roles in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and JOY, and over 20 years too young to play Christian Bale's burnt-out wife in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Still, she excelled. Yet today, Lawrence continues to be miscast opposite actors who are way too old for her, like Javier Bardem, 22 years her senior in MOTHER! and then her agents go and cast her in schlocky pulp like RED SPARROW as well? What are they thinking? Are they thinking? She deserves so much better. 

Lawrence exhibited more charm and intrigue chatting with Stephen Colbert the other night promoting RED SPARROW than she does in the entire two hours of the espionage thriller. What a waste. She really needs to start picking better scripts or hire new management that will bring her worthier projects. Hey, how about a definitive filmed version of that Tennessee Williams’ classic, complete with Brick’s homosexuality as part of the narrative? J-Law's already done Katniss four times, why not one sensational cat prancing about on that tin roof?

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