Lawrence ex­cels at spy game

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

JEN­NIFER Lawrence treads a fine line be­tween post-femme fa­tale and sex­ual play­thing in this good-look­ing spy thriller, which takes full ad­van­tage of its dis­tinc­tive Eastern Euro­pean back­drop.

Due to her ex­tra­or­di­nary act­ing skills, she never fal­ters.

Af­ter her ca­reer as a prima bal­le­rina is cut trag­i­cally short (by a jeal­ous ri­val), Do­minika Egorova (Lawrence) and her in­valid mother (Joely Richardson) face im­mi­nent evic­tion from their, by Western stan­dards, mod­est Moscow flat.

Egorova’s lech­er­ous un­cle Ivan (Matthias Schoe­naerts), who is deputy di­rec­tor of Rus­sia’s ex­ter­nal in­tel­li­gence agency, the SVR, comes up with a “res­cue” plan.

In­volv­ing her in the as­sas­si­na­tion of a high-pro­file busi­ness­man, he en­sures Egorova has no choice but to en­ter the SVR’s spar­row pro­gram, or “whore school”.

Through rit­ual degra­da­tion and hu­mil­i­a­tion, the stu­dents are taught to use their bod­ies as weapons of the state, to para­phrase Char­lotte Ram­pling’s so­cio­pathic head­mistress.

There is noth­ing tit­il­lat­ing about these sex scenes, played by Lawrence with a kind of ab­ject de­fi­ance — but they still feel dis­turbingly voyeuris­tic.

On her first of­fi­cial mis­sion, Egorova, code name Diva, trav­els to Bu­dapest to smoke out a high-rank­ing Rus­sian mole by earn­ing the trust of his han­dler, Joel Edger­ton’s CIA agent Nate Nash.

Egorova’s sur­vival de­pends on her abil­ity to out­ma­noeu­vre the bu­reau­cratic bul­lies who have backed her into a cor­ner.

Not even the lo­cal bureau chief — a sex­ual preda­tor with a thin skin for re­jec­tion — has her back. Egorova has noth­ing to rely on apart from her wits.

Hav­ing helmed three of the four Hunger Games films, Fran­cis Lawrence (no re­la­tion) knows how to di­rect his lead actor to her (and his) full ad­van­tage.

Lawrence em­braces the am­bi­gu­ity of her char­ac­ter — Egorova is, by turns, vic­tim, ma­nip­u­la­tor, and cal­cu­lat­ing dou­ble agent.

Edger­ton plays Nash as an es­sen­tially de­cent man in a morally bank­rupt world.

Schoe­naerts’ bad guy is very, very good. And Mary Louise Parker make the most of her role as a pow­er­ful lush.

Less per­sua­sive is the film’s over­ar­ch­ing tone.

While Red Spar­row is plot­ted like a pot­boiler, its di­rec­tor is aim­ing for some­thing loftier, more cere­bral. But as a tale of power and cor­rup­tion, the film lacks the nec­es­sary depth.

And by hav­ing a bet both ways, the gru­elling sex and tor­ture scenes lose ten­sion.

A di­rec­tor such as Paul Ver­ho­even (Elle) would have been much less coy.

Red Spar­row still has enough plot twists and turns and dou­ble backs, how­ever, to keep au­di­ences guess­ing.

NOW SHOW­ING

Jen­nifer Lawrence and (in­set, cen­tre) as dou­ble agent Diva in Red Spar­row.

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