RED SPARROW

Cert 15 139mins Stars 4

Jennifer Lawrence has her wings clipped by spies, seduction and sexual slavery in this hard hitting thriller with a heavy edge of political comment.

As Dominika she’s a former prima ballerina for the Bolshoi ballet who is recruited by the Russian secret service to seduce foreign agents.

Following her role as a persecuted housewife in last years bonkers art-house fantasy, Mother!, this is another punishing role as an abused woman forLawrence.

Reunited with her Hunger Games director, Francis Lawrence, it’s another tale of a young women coerced by a dictatorial state for a nefarious purpose.

Under Charlotte Rampling’s stern tutorship, Dominika is dehumanised, re-educated and programmed to thrill the enemy.

Graduating as a professional seductress, known as Sparrows, she’s sent to Budapest to hook up with a CIA operative in order to identify an American mole in Moscow.

The earnestly dull Joel Edgerton is our man in the CIA, and the always dull Matthias Schoenaerts plays Dominika’s handler. He’s amusingly made up to resemble Vladimir Putin.

Though handsomely staged on location, this dark tale of manipulation, deception and betrayal is an unapologetically arduous experience, smuggled into cinemas disguised as a glossy blockbuster.

Telling the story is told from the Soviet spies’ point of view, this is a highly critical spin on 007’s From Russia With Love. Far from enjoying a swinging satin sheeted romp with Sean Connery, Dominika’s mission involves a more realistic experience of espionage.

She’s humiliated, abused and raped, all at the behest of powerful and much older men, who are her mentors and supposed protectors.

It’s hard not to read this as a damning critique of Hollywood and a metaphor for an actresses life in the sex scandal environment prior to the #metoo campaign.

We’re supposed to find this superbly crafted film an uneasy watch, and it will disappoint anyone looking for a conscience-free fun time.

STRATTON

Cert 15 94mins Stars 1

Unintentionally funny and fist-bitingly terrible throughout, this sub-James Bond action thriller featuring the commando Special Boat Service is a washout. It serves to remind us just how excellent the 007 films are.

Director Simon West arms his cast with a laughably wet script, so it’s little wonder so many performances flounder.

As SBS Sergeant Stratton, the unfortunate Dominic Cooper is chasing a terrorist armed with stolen chemical weapons. The British actor was a replacement for Superman’s Henry Cavill, who sensibly dropped out at the last minute.

Connie Nielsen is a treadmill pounding ‘M’ figure with an alarming accent who is concerned about a leak inside MI6 which is gushing information to the other side.

While Gemma Chan who is very good as a robot in TV’s Humans, gives another robotic performance here as a technical geek.

In one scene a group of Italians ignore the gunfight going on outside to focus on the football. Sensible types, those Italians.

 

 

UNLOCKED

Cert 15 98mins Stars 2

This silly thriller seems designed to unleash a female rival to James Bond on the unsuspecting world of international espionage.

The topical Europe-hopping plot includes a reasonable amount of action. But the film is unevenly paced, predictably plotted and the moments of broad humour dilute the under-powered tension.

Noomi Rapace and Orlando Bloom play a CIA interrogator and a former marine. They’re on the run and have to prevent the detonation of a biological bomb in London.

Michael Douglas and John Malkovich add Hollywood gloss as CIA top brass, with the latter not taking his role with absolute seriousness.

Filming wrapped in January 2015, and since then the movie has collected dust on a shelf. Presumably it’s being released now to cash in on the fact its stars are about to return to cinemas in much bigger films.

Rapace appears next week in Alien: Covenant, the follow up to sci-fi epic, Prometheus.

Meanwhile in two weeks, Bloom attempts to kickstart his stalled career with a return to The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In the first Pirates film, Bloom was the romantic hero. But Johnny Depp swaggered up as Captain Jack Sparrow and sank Bloom’s career as a leading man.

Bloom has since failed to offer any evidence he’s anything other than a posh pretty boy of reasonable talent and an inoffensive screen presence. He’s astonishingly miscast here in a role more suited to the rough charm of Jason Statham.

And now forty years old, Bloom seems beset by an early mid-life crisis. He’s sporting tattoos, an ill advised haircut and a desire to prove his physical prowess.

This uninvolving mess was directed by Michael Apted, who made 1999’s not great 007 film, The World Is Not Enough. I’m sure any plans for Rapace to make a sequel to this remain locked up and for her eyes only.

 

 

 

Spectre

Director: Sam Mendes (2015)

From the breathtaking beginning to the doom laden finale, the 24th James Bond adventure is an extraordinary explosive and epic episode of the franchise.

The spy filled cinematic year has included reasonably received riffs on the genre including Kingsman, Spy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man From UNCLE.

Now the daddy of espionage returns to slap down the young pretenders.

Returning in his fourth and possibly final film of an extraordinarily successful tenure, the 47 year old Daniel Craig offers an interpretation of Ian Fleming’s alter-ego at least equal to the very best.

Spectre is fresh and ambitious despite the weight of history and expectation.

So spectacular, sexy and superb in all departments, it sometimes feels less than the sum of its magnificent parts.

Yet British director Sam Mendes is playing a bigger game than merely creating a standalone action thriller.

He’s also made a fabulous final chapter in a four film reinvention of an overly familiar character.

Prior to Craig each Bond movie was a self-contained story connected not by story but by character.

It’s now clear we’ve been watching a long form story which began way back with the Englishman’s debut in the role in Casino Royale (2006).

It’s a bold strategic 9 year move inspired perhaps by the 10 year long Harry Potter series and a forerunner of Marvel‘s creation of a cinematic universe.

This approach won’t harm the home entertainment box-set sales.

The famous gun barrel opening sequence is re-installed and few themes create a shiver of expectation as effectively as Bond’s does.

Following on from Skyfall (2012), a message from beyond the grave sends 007 off-piste and outside the law.

As he follows a trail of clues from Rome, to Austria and Morocco, he once more encounters the deadly Quantum organisation.

It’s a procession vodka martini’s, dangerous women, gorgeous locations, terrific stunts, powerful henchmen and a completely cuckoo villain. Bond’s car is quite beautiful even by his standards.

There’s paranoia, conspiracy, betrayal, torture, sex and death.

And as a riposte to those who suggest Craig’s interpretation lacks humour, it’s also very funny.

A trio of European stars add indispensable talent and glamour.

As the oldest actress to be cast opposite Bond, Monica Bellucci’s widow riffs on a character on in The Italian Job (1969).

Lea Seydoux is an excellent foil and Christoph Waltz mercifully keeps a firm hand on his inclination to camp.

An intelligent script works hard to give ample screen time to Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw who return as MI6 stalwarts Moneypenny, M and Q.

They also contribute to the two and a half hour running time and if anything was to be trimmed, it would be this extra muscle.

As cinema owners will be forced to have fewer screenings per day to accommodate Bond’s length, it will be interesting to see if this affects the box office.

This potential shortfall may be compensated for by more expensive IMAX tickets. The opening Mexico sequence certainly warrants the extra cost to the cinema-goer.

It’s dynamically photographed by Dutch-Swedish Hoyte van Hoytema. His work on Interstellar (2014) was one of the few high points of Chris Nolan’s pompous ego trip.

But here the rich wreaths of shadows he wraps around the players are more reminiscent of his glorious work which contributed so much to the success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).

Sam Smith’s theme song sounds thin on the radio but works well in situ over the sensual opening titles.

Mendes encourages his actors to play every scene as if it’s their last. Which for Daniel Craig, may well be the case.