So, there we were on a Saturday evening, searching the schedules for group-friendly viewing, when Bleak Bazza, finally justified in his miserable nature by turning 90, admitted to having a Jennifer Lawrence thing. Never awkward when a cohabitee in Camp Death alerts you to a profound breaking of the Fancying Someone Age Limit Code (your age, by half, add six. Or, in this instance, Bazza’s age, by half, subtract another twelve, endure the disgust of everyone in the TV room). But it was his birthday.
And so to a touching tale in which J-Law (oh yes) loses out on a twirling career in favour of a nasty, violent, torturing and tortuous world of mute tones, Le Carré level funlessness and tense family relations. For she is to become a Russian agent, trained in unloving sexy-times manipulation and fewer actual spy skills than Q covers in two minutes with Bond. The life and times of a grouchy Red Sparrow.
On the bright side, she does it all for Joely Richardson, her waifishly ill mother. This is heartening to the aged audience in exactly the same way Bazza’a throat gurgling – when said Sparrow goes to “whore school” in waves of violence and unenchanting nudity – isn’t. The Sparrow does this after competitive twattery at the Bolshoi ruins her heading-for-triumphant twirling career. But that’s okay, she beats the shit out of the bad-doers with her crutch before going to grey-skied hell at her uncle’s behest.
Now. Look. We’re a bit sensitive at the home when it comes to unfollowable plots. Some of us are teetering on the edge of platelet overload and all the terrors that come with it. Forgetting names, forgetting what things are called, and, most dreaded of all, forgetting what everything is for be they friend, family or convoluted spy on spy shenanigans. Put us through films with ‘dense plotting’, as Filmic Fred kept trying to call Red Sparrow, and we end up in flop-sweats and a proper panic that our identity is ending. Even the moments of clarity brought by Charlotte Rampling (yup, I’m a bag of needs too, spy-lady, persuade me), Ciarán Hinds (who perfects thoughtful-yet-blank evil, here) and King of Glum, Jeremy Irons, don’t really break through the clouds and bring a glint of humour. And they’re old and experienced, so…you know…disappointing.
The plot seems to be…um…an American in Russia, or possibly Budapest, probably has an informer, and gets accidentally noticed in a park, and Sparrow goes to get him and possibly falls for him, or not, because she is glum about her uncle’s games and the senior Britishers-doing-Russian-accents…not that she doesn’t play along at the swimming pool with what young Jacketta informs me is a (her word, so don’t look at me, buster) “slut-kini”… And then there’s a blissfully light turn by Mary-Louise Parker (oh, the relief of clever). And then some skin-shaving torture and…I don’t understand anymore…
Add in a horrible fringe, some properly funny Russian accents, and the film delivers nervous, unexpected laughs in the gloom: trained, supersmart secret agents shagging near windows; same experts searching rooms for listening devices by patting vaguely at bed slats; did I mention the slut-kini? Bazza was happy because he doesn’t follow plots any more.
Lessons for the old? Don’t become a pompous arse. Lessons for the young? Every life, in every situation, no matter if the sky seems black or the daisies grey, has humour. Red Sparrow is so set on being earnest and complex it forgets to laugh and deliberately blocks out great chunks of logic. Kudos to the cast for getting it made. They must have cackled with hysteria between every gloomy take.
The ending…works. The film? Wholly competent, but a mighty effort for the old.