Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Red Sparrow (2018)

Image is property of TSG Entertainment, Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Red Sparrow  – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: A Russian ballerina is enrolled into a top secret programme that trains its recruits to become highly skilled agent known as Sparrows. Her primary target quickly becomes a CIA agent who is in possession of some top secret information.

Review: The United States of America and Russia,  two countries with an extremely murky history. A history that teased the terrifying prospect of nuclear conflict that lasted the best part of the 20th century. As such, it opens the door for filmmakers and storytellers to tap into this relationship of sorts between these two countries and how that may develop in the years to come. Mix that in with elements of espionage and seduction, and you have the materials to make a dark and unsettling espionage thriller.

Yet despite ticking all these boxes, there is something about Red Sparrow that just never  hits the mark. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, it’s intriguing premise offers much, but the hope that this intriguing premise would deliver a compelling story feels really misguided. Marking his first project since completing the Hunger Games franchise, Francis Lawrence has reunited with his Hunger Games collaborator Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) to tell this story of Dominika. A gifted Russian ballerina who suffers a devastating accident which destroys her career as a ballerina. Unsure as to what she should do next, she is pushed into the direction of the Sparrow programme, and it’s from this moment, her life will never be the same again.

The trailers certainly made the movie look as though it was going to be an intriguing espionage thriller, yet sadly it really is not all that thrilling. The screenplay by Justin Hythe certainly offers up an intriguing first act, including some very dark scenes that could have taken the story in a very interesting direction. However, it all quickly fizzles away into insignificance before long. A story with this premise should not be this mediocre, but several scenes just meander and it all becomes just not very interesting to watch. The actual plot itself is extremely convoluted, and it all just gets a little bit messy.  There’s some impressive camerawork involving the moment her ballerina prospects go up in flames, but there’s not much else to shout about, which is frustrating given some of the work we have seen from Lawrence as a director (see Catching Fire).

Lawrence has shown that since she hung up her bow as Katniss that she can take on a variety of different roles and make them her own. Her performance is admirable as she tries to hold the film on her shoulders, but the extremely lacklustre material she has been given to work with prevents her from doing so. Though her accent does slip on occasions, she gives comfortably the strongest performance. The rest of this very talented cast are by and large either extremely under-utilised or not given enough development to really make the audience care for them. Edgerton is perhaps the only exception, but even then the development he gets is thin, at best. Meanwhile, other actors such as Jeremy Irons seem really miscast in their roles.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is serviceable, but it could and really should have been so much stronger given the talent of the actors. The plot is so convoluted that by the time the credits begin to play, you’ll be wondering if it was worth it, and the answer sadly, is probably not.

An intriguing premise, thrown away on an extremely convoluted and messy plot, combined with very bland and forgettable characters, all of which results in an extremely disappointing finished product.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

mockingjay2
Image rights belong to Lionsgate and Color Force

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields.

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: The war in Panem reaches its climax, as Katniss and her team, along with all of the districts of Panem prepare to launch a full out assault on the Capitol and President Snow, and to bring an end to tyranny that has plagued them for over 75 years.

Review: Another year, and another curtain falls for the (possible) last time an incredibly popular franchise, The Hunger Games. While many may feel this should have happened twelve months ago after the first part of Mockingjay, which while solid left fans a little bit wanting, as there was an aching desire for a lot more in the way of action. This closing instalment does bring said action, in considerable quantities. Yet it’s not all plain sailing, although for the most part, the odds are in the favour of this franchise.

Picking up where we left off, Katniss despite almost being murdered at the end of the last film, is preparing for her long awaited attack on the Capitol to hunt and kill President Snow. Very little time is wasted as the assembled crew battle their way into Panem and have to negotiate some sinister traps. Like in Catching Fire, director Francis Lawrence helms the action sequences extremely well and on the whole they do provide some exciting and nervy scenes as the team negotiate the mire that is the Capitol’s deserted and almost wasteland like streets. Yet for all the intense drama, there are a number of really impactful moments that hit hard in the book. Yet when put on the big screen, they are not as nearly as emotional or hard hitting as they should have been. We’ve spent three films with some of these characters, the emotional pay off should amount to more than it does.

Being the Oscar winner she is, a good Jennifer Lawrence performance is almost a given, and of course she’s as excellent as she has been right throughout the franchise’s beginnings. She clearly is carrying that deep trauma that has been effecting her by the events of the first three films, but at the same time she maintains that steely determination to carry out her goal “to make Snow pay for what he’s done.” Yet for Lawrence’s brilliance, the rest of the cast are not given much of a platform to shine, and some do get lost in the sea of the makeshift games of the Capitol. The cast is extensive with plenty of considerable talent in there from some of Hollywood’s biggest names, but not many show their quality, and in those rare moments that they do, it is fleeting, gone before it had a chance to really show itself.

You can tell that the film-makers were looking to honour the book in every way they can, and full credit for them for attempting that. However this extreme loyalty to the book means that the script unfortunately does suffer in places, with some very slow moments that drag on for longer than they need to. This gives weight to those who argued that the film should never have been split into two parts, and on the evidence of this final film, they may have a point. It’s not the fiery and astounding conclusion that some may have hoped for. However, there is still plenty here for hardcore fans to enjoy. The odds have been in their favour from the franchise’s beginning and it ends the series on a satisfying note.

An improvement on the first part, Part 2 delivers the action the fans were hoping to see, but there are shades of the problems that bogged down Part 1, while some of the important events do not have that emotional punch that they ought to.

b