Violent Hunt In The Desert – REVENGE (2017), dir: Coralie Fargeat

Revenge-UK-quad-posterVertigo Films

Revenge is an empowering story, that of a survivor who also brings justice upon the men who caused her harm. French writer/director Coralie Fargeat makes her debut with Revenge and delivers a brutal but exhilarating tale that blends reality and fantasy.

We have three men on one side, who are hunters too and a young woman on the other, too frail and beautiful for any sort of fight (or so it seems…). However, the odds of the game are gradually reversed and the hunted becomes the hunter and the underdog triumphs in a bloodshed of rightful vengeance. A pleasant surprise is also that Fargeat choses to imply rape without the graphic scenes we usually see in the genre, and in doing so she doesn’t damage the impact of its brutality for the viewer.

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Revenge does not simply encourage the audience to empathise with Jen, it enables us to truly get immersed into her odyssey, identify with her and participate in her fight. Matilda Lutz is fantastic in a physically demanding role as she successfully captures the fragility of her heroine but also the silent dynamism and rage she experiences due to her troubles.

The desert is the perfect setting for the film, its wilderness and sterility are not forgiving weakness. It almost feels that Jen’s transformation could not have happened in any other place on earth, any less brutal and barren. This ultimate transformation is tremendously satisfying for the audience, perhaps because of its unlikely nature as it sees Jen, a playful bimbo becoming a fierce warrior of cult proportions.

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It happens in a hallucinatory act with a disorienting, spiral soundtrack embedded; Jen finally emerges as a marked heroine with an eagle on her wound in a powerful moment with a symbolic meaning. Symbolism is widely used in the film: the apple of sin once bitten by Eve (or Jen) is now slowly rotting, the rebirth of a woman is marked by an eagle, bestowing her freedom and courage, etc.

The sound design in the film is amazing as it brings a 1970s-80s feel into the thriller, bringing in mind the incredible You Were Never Really Here, from another female writer/director, Lynne Ramsay. Fargeat’s choice of various types of shots adds vitality to the story and highlights the qualities of the characters. There are several extreme close ups, like Jen’s smile through the binoculars, Dimitri’s disgusting mouth while devouring snickers, etc.  Slow motion close ups like Jen’s blood drops falling over ants are dressed with the unexpected sound of gunshots.

revenge-1Vertigo Films

Low angle shots of our heroine when she commits murder for the first time, or another demonstration of Stan’s unprompted cruelty as he drowns a spider in his urine. Fargeat also reintroduces Jen to the audience with an iconic arc shot as another Lara Croft, determined and fierce. Finally, she uses different pallets to divide the film, before violence strikes colours are warm; the innocence of pink, the passivity and calmness of blue are replaced by darker colours and earth tones to convey the danger and isolation.

The camera follows the characters resembling a violent video game and the staging of the action scenes are surprisingly tense and thrilling, not to mention memorable. Particularly, the stylised ending sequence where Jen and Richard make slippery circles of blood until one of them slips brings in mind how a silly children’s game can be transformed into a manic death hunt.

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After Revenge you might feel empowered and grateful for the well-deserved happy ending. You might contemplate upon the value of identifying with the heroine; could it be the case that we borrow her vengeance and adjust it to our reality? Could Jen’s metamorphosis, although extreme and irrelevant to our situation motivate us even slightly to give an uncompromising fight?


LOVERS ON THE ROCKS – Beast (2017), dir: Michael Pearce

beast-posterAltitude Film Entertainment

There are films you know you’ll enjoy after the first few minutes and Beast is one of them as it sets off to a powerful and laconic prologue. Shots of the magnificent Jersey landscape set the canvas of this painful and crude story, and a pertinent metaphor about captive killer whales instantly draws an accurate psychological portrait of our heroine, Moll.

As the genres of drama, romance and crime thriller blend here, Michael Pearce tells an eerie tale where beasts feed from the ones closest to them or camouflage their monstrous nature with fake smiles and bounded heads, or prey on the weak when their passions are beyond control. The story is complex and smart and the performances impeccable and thrilling. The film has a dreamlike quality where Moll and Pascal experience their romantic love but takes a violent turn when deep inner confrontations occur in the face of the inevitable resolution of the tragedy.

beast-9Altitude Film Entertainment

The two lovers give their first kiss on the edge of a rocky cliff, one wrong step and the fall is uninterrupted. It’s crystal clear right away that there are no half measures with this relationship, it is the kind that brings about radical change and reformation in one’s self. Jessie Buckley gives a haunting and magnetising performance that keeps you glued to the screen, and Johnny Flynn delivers a complicated character, an odd combination of a vulnerable rabbit and a cunning, lethal fox.

Moll’s evolution throughout the film is an ode to liberation but also a cautionary tale against the obsession of love. She rejects her suffocating family, and her overbearing and psychologically abusive mother thanks to the strength and encouragement she draws from Pascal, a man of animalistic presence and natural integrity.

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Pascal is the one who suggests that mistakes are for everyone and are better left in the past. However, up till the end Moll is bearing the guilt of a childhood mistake, which took immense dimensions due to her mother’s consuming fear. I couldn’t help but think that Moll is made to believe she is dangerous and wild when in fact, if she had been treated with more kindness, she would have thrived.  Her flaw is magnified and the daily humiliations she succumbs to compromise her ability to control her impulses and to think rationally.

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Beast brought in mind Wentworth Miller’s Stoker (2013), directed by Park Chan-wook. The relationship between India (Mia Wasikowska) and her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) bear similar elements to that of Moll and Pascal. Lead performances and cinematic style differ considerably but both films tell the story of two individuals who have always been lonely in a rejecting world and finally, find acceptance and a liberating push through their relationship. For India and Moll this takes the form of a sexual awakening and a journey of self-discovery that takes them in the darkest corners of their minds.

Another noticeable similarity is that of the ending, Moll and India set themselves apart from the madness of their “partners in crime” by acting as improbable avengers. The catharsis of both endings also proves that despite natural and primitive inclinations, it is the choices we make in critical moments that define us.

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After watching Beast, you might be numb by the amalgam of complicated emotions it evokes, feel like driving somewhere far and enjoying the view over a craggy peak. You might also contemplate upon the apocryphal realities we resort to, to crush the fantasy, or alternatively to protect it is a double-edged sword. Finally, you might admit the common belief that opposites attract and liked repel is true only when it comes to magnetism.


Death Is on the Hunt – Avengers: Infinity War (2018); Anthony & Joe Russo

poster-imdb¦Walt Disney Studios

Anthony and Joe Russo give us the third Avengers film, the penultimate of the series that will be completed in 2019 with the final chapter that will “restore the balance” in our crippled universe. If you’ve seen the film, you should be able to get my reference as restoring the balance pretty much summarises the ambition of the movie’s villain, Thanos.

Thanos does credit to his name, the derivation of “thanatos”, the Greek word for death given that he had been wiping out planets for years and now he’s on the verge of fulfilling his destiny, as he likes to call it, that is to grant an omni-galactic half-genocide to combat over population. Josh Brolin does an excellent job at breathing life into the character and although GCI-assisted, it’s striking how detailed and powerful his emotions come across. We’ve seen this before of course, with the great Andy Serkis’s Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy but it is quite remarkable here as Brolin is portraying an odd-looking, huge, purple alien.

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It is right to say that the movie is set around the man, as several (five or six) sub-plots see the usual characters gradually joining forces to fight him. It is outstanding how the Russo Brothers managed to put all these characters (20 main, 76 in total) in one movie and not make it feel disjointed or awkward. This is true especially for the first half of the movie, when the threat is still fresh and our heroes are tracing allies and old friends, and the thrill builds up nicely with the transitions between the different storylines. As we move in the second half, there is an ambience of doom and despair sweeping across all fronts that try to stand on Thanos’ way.

Infinity War is a good movie overall as it surprisingly combines smoothly several sub-plots in one narrative and remains interesting and fast-paced throughout its’ 149 minutes. The movie is rich in visual effects and tight action that escalates tension, especially as we get to realise that Thanos is an omni-potent enemy and won’t be dealt with easily. In a way, the film feels epic and important thanks to its scale and cast ensemble but doesn’t really reach that level of enjoyment and cinematic craft (at least not from a directing point of view…).

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Dialogue is emphasised, with many close and dramatic takes. Vision and Wanda, and Gamora and Peter offer the basis for melodrama and tearful declarations of love in theatrical close ups. And then we also have the emotionally-charged scenes involving paternal figures and their “children”. Thanos and his adopted daughter, Gamora share a complicated relationship (that gives us one of the most moving scenes).

Their story imitates Greek mythology as Gamora attempts revenge for the death of her people (and mother) as a reversed Electra and ends up being sacrificed by her father like another Iphigenia. Tony and Peter on the other hand, have a heart-warming relationship fuelled by Peter’s admiration and gratitude for Stark’s faith in him and by Tony’s awakened paternal instincts that subconsciously made Peter his protégé.

infinity-2Walt Disney Studios

It is fair to say that there are a few jokes here and there but classic banter between heroes dominates the comedic writing style (that ends up being cheesy and predictable at times…), with only exception the fantastic interaction between Thor and the Guardians that produce the most genuinely funny scenes of the movie.

Also, considering the fact that Infinity War has an overall heavy and serious tone, and the comedy suffers from unoriginal writing, the movie might have benefited by embracing its’ darkness and staying loyal to it. I believe that for a film that aims to devastate and crush the audience with fear and loss, humour as it was used here looses its power and to make matters worse, damages the emotional credibility for drama.

When the Guardians rescue Thor, the sequence of jokes feels appropriate and true to the characters because of the established and unique style that their own films are set in, however when Peter Quill jerks around Tony when he’s trying to come up with a plan at a critical moment, it simply feels out of tone. Interestingly enough, despite my argument on Thor’s ownership of actual fun in the movie, it is remarkable that he also delivers one of the most emotionally-charged scenes as well.

infinity-5Walt Disney Studios

After Avengers: Infinity War, you might feel a bit down, need some time to process the tight, rich spectacle you’ve just witnessed, reconsider who your favourite Avenger is, place a bet with friends about who is actually going to die in the next movie, and look up Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Also, you might have learnt a lesson about group work and anger management, seeing how it takes only one person losing their temper for the mission to be jeopardised. Finally, you might compare your courage to that of Cap and his clan, and reflect upon the purpose of stories with so outrageously courageous individuals and how these may affect our Ego Ideal?

Welcome to her Jungle – Tomb Raider (2018), dir: Roar Uthaug

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Amazing, thrilling and exciting is this Lara Croft reboot from the Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and his lead, Alicia Vikander. The movie taps into well-known themes (adventure, metaphysical mystery, father/ daughter relationship) and is imbued with the classic action feel of the likes of Indiana Jones. Needless to say, Tomb Raider celebrates a brand-new attitude towards its heroine compared to the previous two films starring Angelina Jolie, bringing the inspiring achievement of Wonder Woman (2017) in mind with regard to the representation of women in contemporary cinema.

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Vikander is different in that she is an athlete, an elegant and yet impressively powerful presence on screen thanks to her ability in conveying both physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It is very empowering for women, and I imagine even more so for young girls to see Vikander’s Croft running through the forest, drawing her arrows, falling down and getting back up again without a second thought, being afraid and yet, bravely facing danger and outwitting her opponents (and specifically, intimidating men).

Vikander brings acting quality in the movie and elevates Croft’s persona to an extraordinary and yet, realistic character (as much as such a type of movie allows her, of course). The weaknesses of the movie are not destructive and do not diminish it to a mediocre viewing. Let us not forget that this is the first film of the franchise and therefore, allocates a considerable time in introducing Lara to us and as introductions go, it rarely keeps up our interest for long, as action is more appealing.

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The most pivotal influence in Lara’s psyche has been her father so we’d expect an impeccable chemistry between the two. However, despite the filmmakers’ evident intention for the opposite, I found the scenes between Lara and her father (Dominic West) flat in tension, and her one-to-one scene with Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) too long and poor in flow. In my opinion, Dominic West although ideal for the role on paper he didn’t match Vikander’s generous emotional narrative ability.

Also, admittedly there is a repetitive “hanging” and unreasonably too far jumping patterns but somehow, Vikander makes it work by employing physicality and acting talent. Perhaps, loyal players of the video-game might see this as a humble attempt to stay loyal to the game…

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In contrast, Tomb Raider’s strongest elements revolve around its lead and entail series of chases, fights and emotionally tense moments. The introduction to Lara is in itself an exciting, dynamic affair as her attitude towards giving up in a box match clearly signals her feisty character. The “fox hunt” that follows is an electrifying bicycle chase in the streets of London that shows off her comic ability and joyous nature. She becomes instantly likeable and interesting and that is not such an easy an accomplishment!

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Other memorable, good scenes are when she finds herself into a river (soon to be waterfall) and manages to cling to an old plane, when she hunts down the small thieves who took her back bag, when she commits her first murder and when she faces Vogel in a brutal combat.  There are beautifully executed choreographed action sequences where we can admire Vikander’s dedication to giving us a realistic Lara, empathic, funny, traumatised but also, determined, brave and physically able for jaw-dropping exploits. She conveys drama without becoming banal, she instills complex emotions into a performance that is also physically demanding.

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After the film you might feel an intense need to run, throw an arrow or do bungee jumping. You might feel like experimenting in your next vacation by choosing a creepy, remote island as your destination, or you might fantasise about the discoveries you’d make if you ever decided to give up your conventional life and become an archaeologist (hat and whiplash are compulsory of course!). Finally, you might acknowledge how refreshing and urgent it is to see more women like Vikander’s Croft on-screen, women of remarkable physicality, brilliant wit and emotional integrity.

Innocent and the Damned – You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir: Lynne Ramsay


With her fourth film director Lynne Ramsay delivers an immersive, hypnotic thriller deplete with imagery of emotional pain and dreamlike visual lyricism enhanced by a powerful, throbbing score. No wonder she won herself the award for Best Screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix received the award for Best Actor in 2017 Cannes Festival.

The film was conceived and executed with evident influences from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). It introduces as to Joe, an unimaginably hurt creature able to spread monstrous, gore terror but also experience fear, guilt, love and tenderness.

I can’t recall a similar introduction to the main character before. Several minutes go by until we actually see his face but first, we get a glimpse of a habit of his, that of putting a plastic bag around his head, asphyxiating and reaping it off just in time. My instinctive association was that of sexual fetishism but Joe is more complicated than that.


We later see him leaning off the edge of a train platform when a woman with a bruised face is peeping behind a pillar; she recognises the pain perhaps… or has indulged in similar thoughts herself? Joe has suicidal fantasies daily; hanging off the edge of train platforms, asphyxiating, playing with knives over his open mouth, trying to drown himself after a severe loss and in a climaxing diner scene towards the ending he fantasises shooting himself point blank.

As a child he remained powerless against the menace of an abusive father. His legacy however passed on as Joe hasn’t dismissed his father’s appetite for violence, nor his favourite weapon, the hammer. Is the hammer empowering him as by representing his worst childhood fear, it turns him into the ultimate terror, or is it perhaps a joke on his father, now that his son is liberating abused kids with the same tool that once served his old man’s perversion?


Joe still suffers the aftermath of the abuse under his skin but thanks to his line of work (he is a hitman but also, retrieves kids that were abducted for sex slavery), every victim he saves may represent an attempt to save his younger self. However, in spite of acting in retribution this doesn’t amount to a cathartic, healing process that could grant him his freedom from past nightmares, instead he carries them around with him every moment.

In a particular scene where he lies beside his mother’s killer, holding his hand you see he is embracing a brother’s journey to the other side and making it almost his own. For all his hypnotising fantasies involving death, he is able to make that connection with the afterlife through a fellow hired gun or keeping company to him as a substitute experience to the one he would like to have had with his mother.


Joe is capable for love, compassion and sacrifice. He is caring for his mother and showing his affection by cleaning her fridge, seating by her bedside until she falls asleep and helping her polish the silverware while accompanying her in their favourite song. Later on, he will launch on a risky, vengeance mission to save Nina.

Joaquin Phoenix is sensational and shows great skill and capacity to creatively adopt an overly used persona and make it his own. His piercing eyes alone tell a complex, scary story and his ability to violently shake you and remind you that you know nothing of torment is astonishing. Towards the ending, during the mansion scenes in the absence of lines his talent radiates as he employs physicality to take us through Joe’s crisis. I believe that Phoenix’s performance elevates the character to the cult pantheon next to personas like Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976), Dae-su (Oldboy, 2003), the Bride (Kill Bill, 2003-04), Léon Montana (Léon, 1994) to mention a few.


Ramsay abandons linear narrative for a more rich and interesting approach that embraces flash-backs and quick-fired visions. In essence, she is throwing a few pieces of Joe’s psyche puzzle here and there and are not enough for us to construct an elaborate, clear storyline. They suffice however to spot his most recurrent, haunting visions and the initial trauma that marked his later life. She also indulges us with extreme close-ups to transmit his extreme pain and loneliness.

She likes to shoot through surfaces for instance standing on the other side of the platform we observe Joe through the passing train or when engaged in a gory fight, we enjoy dizzying shots through the glass ceiling. In a remarkable, dreamlike scene where his mother’s body is drawn to the bottom of the lake, we see her hair floating in a slow-motion capture, in the same way a few scenes back the camera focused on Nina’s hair. That is a beautifully-poetic connection between the two characters, followed by a vision that more clearly associates the two in Joe’s mind and will push him to emerge from his passivity.


Lynne Ramsay’s visual poetry is dressed with a shrill, muddy score, where electronic, polyphonic pieces intertwine with chilling, high dynamic range compositions, able to cause vertigo and despair. In particular, the “Dark Streets” track encompasses haunting, electro abyss. Jonny Greenwood’s work is always excellent and unique and earlier this year earned him an Academy Award nomination for composing the score for his lifelong collaborator’s latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (he has also composed the score for Inherent Vice and The Master, both films featuring Phoenix).


After the film you might check Lynne Ramsay’s previous work (it’s only three films so there’s no excuse not to…), similarly delve into Greenwood’s compositions and admit that Joaquin Phoenix has a raw quality about him and a capacity to convey pain that only few of his colleagues have. Also, you might feel ready to engage more actively with the pain of others, or perhaps your very own despair. Finally, you might try to capture the feelings you would experience if you led a life where you could disappear and leave no traces behind, as if you were never really here at all.

An Amphibian Affair – The Shape of Water (2017), dir: Guillermo del Toro

posterFox Searchlight

Guillermo del Toro named The Shape of Water his best film so far and he might be right to think so. Admittedly, the film represents a distinct and mellow fairy tale that not only is masterfully shot but also, carries important symbolism and commentary on human nature.

The characters that surround the two unlikely lovers are unique caricatures; the sensitive gay neighbour, the chatty, good-hearted colleague, the spy doctor with a conscious, the cocky, brainless General and the cruel racist and sadist Colonel. In an imaginary world, replete with villains and heroes, were find our outwardly couple, a mute woman and an amphibian creature with special powers. Although a romance like this pushes the boundaries of our tolerance to imagination, their relationship is approached so delicately and sensitively that becomes smoothly integrated into our soft fantasy circle.

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The opening scene is a miraculous entrance to Elisa’s world and introduces us to the blue and green shades that colour the film. In that first glimpse of our heroine, floating in her sleep in Alexandre Desplat’s melancholic score she strikes as an underwater Amélie. The circular movement of the del Toro’s camera feels almost like a dancing sequence that familiarises with the space and the characters by also enabling a feeling of visual cosiness, warmth and comfort.

In Elisa’s kingdom where silence reigns, so does loneliness until she makes a new friend in the secret government laboratory where she works. That new friend is a male humanoid amphibian that succumbs under daily torture and is soon to be terminated. If there is one thing we can say about the monster is that it looks gorgeous, powerful and fragile all at once.

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The first half of the film can definitely be considered its best part, its most romantic and dreamy compared to the slightly disjointed, out-of-tone action of the second. The courtship and establishment of trust is the most exciting and captivating state we find our protagonists in. Sally Hawkins assumes a demanding role that relies completely on physicality and she does a great job. Elisa’s sensitivity and independence are radiating, her courage and determination make her glow. Her soulful eyes transmit her sweetness and capacity for love but also her painful loneliness and unbearable sentiment from the upcoming separation. She seems delicate and soothing while a fire is burning inside her.

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Richard Jenkins is superb as the sensitive, reality-avoidant friend. His struggle to find companionship has left him with a fridge filled with hopeless unsavoury, green pies and a handful of life lessons. Michael Shannon is haunting as the impersonation of pure evil and draws a thick, dark energy into the film. Octavia Spencer gives a funny and distinctive performance, and Michael Stuhlbarg is remarkable in conveying his moral struggle.

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As a child Guillermo del Toro was marked by the cruelty and injustice done to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and now he has finally made cinema do right by him. A team of experts assisted him in his vision, creature designer Mike Hill, Legacy Effects Supervisor and co-creature designer Shane Mahan, and visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi brought the “Asset” to life and Doug Jones employed his acting skills to complete the task.  The team managed to give us an attractive figure with a perfectly-shaped mouth, expressive, wet eyes and an impressively impeccable body with cyan details on his forehead.

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The Shape of Water is a film created with meticulous care and passionate cinematic love. Its details and unique fabric comprise del Toro’s masterful vision and place the film among the classics with a several scenes amounting to perfection. The dreamy opening scene, the man seating on the bus stop bench holding four balloons and a cake, the first time Elisa and the Creature gaze into each other’s eyes, Giles opening the flooding bathroom door to find the couple sharing a glowing hug, the camera following two rain drops becoming one and the magnificent lightening of the ending scene are the most memorable gems for me. However, despite its beauty and profoundness, the film doesn’t render the hypnotic fairy tale that is promised by its riveting opening.

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After the film you might feel like going to the nearest beach for a swim, bring to mind other unlikely love stories from both art and life and contemplate whether Giles’ advice to his younger self (“Take better care of your teeth and fuck more”), no matter how superficial could actually leave no room for future regrets if acted upon. Finally, you might embrace the film’s argument about loving the “otherness” as experience has taught us that the greater the difference between two individuals, the more fascinating are the discoveries in on another and in oneself while sharing a loving relationship.








How To Survive “Whore School” And Tangle A Mission – Red Sparrow (2018), dir: Francis Lawrence

red-sparrow-poster20th Century Fox

Cold War spy thriller from the “Hunger Games” director Francis Lawrence is a mediocre film with many weaknesses but nonetheless, enriched with interesting performances and a numbingly dark tone that compensate the viewer for all of its’ absurdities and banalities.

A story we have come across numerous time before, a woman in need (to help her sick mother…yep, this is the extent of the clichés here!) is asking for help from a trusting family member when she finds herself implicated into a dangerous situation and her only way out is to succumb to the wishes of the people in control. She is a survivor however and pulls through when the deathly pressures are constantly rising.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, the unlucky ballet dancer (has a sick mother dependent on her, a dastard and vicious dancing partner and an unscrupulous, pervert uncle) gives an excellent and meticulous performance. She portrays a woman in a desperate turn of her life; after having had her greatest passion stripped away from her with malice, she is put under an ordeal of sequential physical, psychological and mental abuse. Her face is the canvas of her emotional intensity and captivates with ease, and her role’s physicality allows her to mark her character’s evolution from the weak position of the victim to that of a strong, cunning warrior.

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Her accomplice and love interest is a solid Joel Edgerton and in the face of her villainous and highly immoral uncle we see the charismatic Matthias Schoenaerts. We find Charlotte Rampling in a part that was executed with apathy and strictness but left no particular impression other than its’ uselessness. In the same tone, Mary-Louise Parker’s performance seemed to be out of tone with the rest of the film. Jeremy Irons, although he has clearly refused to put himself into the failed accents attempt that was going on in the film, he has a powerful presence as a Russian general and adds a certain profoundness to his few lines.

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Red Sparrow is a spectacle of violence and cruelty that are mostly mere exhibitionism. Our heroine’s time in the Sparrow School in particular is filled with episodes of meaningless humiliations, always implicating sex of course… In fact, although I haven’t been recruited for a Sparrow myself, I would expect a more professional and effective approach in teaching those pretty faces how to be spies and master psychological profiling, while also breathing life into their victim’s sexual fantasies. Except for having them watch BDSM videos and get naked in front of the class (let alone how the only other useful skill was running, shooting and opening locks), the other main “educational” session focussed on teaching them to separate their bodies from their minds. This however was taking the form of sadistic games that in addition the recruits were refusing to play which ultimately, defeated the purpose if you ask me…

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There has been discussion around whether the film is indeed empowering women or simply pretends to do so. The question is perhaps whether the explicit violence and the use of sexuality in the film serve a narrative purpose or they exist only to perpetuate a distorted and harmful depiction of women. Approaching this, we shouldn’t forget that this survivor’s tale is set in an environment that encouraged misogynistic oppressiveness, especially in relation to Dominika’s new identity (Sparrows have long been considered as the State’s whores). Therefore, it is only expected that women are expendable and treated cruelly both by the Sparrow School and the State.

On the other hand, we can observe that inappropriately disproportionate time has been allocated to acts of humiliation and torture against women when these should have been shared with men. In the Sparrow School we only see female recruits being tested in front of the class, with only exception that one act of sexual embarrassment of a male recruit. It could be argued that Red Sparrow is exploiting misogynistic stereotypes to excite the audience’s curiosity and appetite for grotesquery and only masquerades itself as a feministic tale.

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It might be that the intention of the filmmaker is to intensify the cathartic experience of the female audience by succumbing them into witnessing representatives of their own sex succumbing into violence. In other words, the graphic imagery can shock and amplify the joyous victory of the film’s ending that celebrates the strength and wits of its’ heroine. In essence, the goal might have been to provoke our disgust and enable identification with the character only to prove that despite the worst possible conditions, our Sparrow outsmarted the domineering male assemble and used her sexuality as she saw fit in the process because that is her right after all!

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Leaving aside the elements that hurt the film’s credibility like the bad American/ British-turned Russian accents, the old-fashioned approach to the spy genre, the predictability and banality of the story, Lawrence’s directing is subtle, almost discreet and has solid flow. This can be more appreciated when we bring to mind the recent Tomas Alfredson’s thriller The Snowman (2017), whose overly stylised directing harmed irreparably its cohesion. Also, the refreshing choice of dialogue over action sets Red Sparrow apart from comparable films like Atomic Blonde (2017) where the imbalance between the two hurt the overall experience.

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Regarding the few memorable scenes that are beautifully-executed, I would probably list the steam room scene among them as it’s brutality and aesthetics are quite unique for a conventional modern Hollywood film. Also, there is a particular torture scene towards the end that builds up tension quite nicely and although hard to watch, it is one of the most realistic executions in the film. This should be highly attributed to the acting discipline and focus aligned with the director’s smart shots.

The brilliant James Newton Howard is signing the haunting, obscure and mysterious score that adds to the film’s cold and raw atmosphere. Francis Lawrence is indulging us with a plethora of close-up shots that convey the intended claustrophobic tone and its’ characters’ emotional torment. However, the darkly sexual atmosphere that Red Sparrow wants to bear is not entirely achieved but its’ perversity and nastiness set it apart from its kind and manage to arouse our curiosity until the very end.

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After the film you might try to recall what was the last American film you saw that included full-frontal nudity, explicit torture, hinted incest, the art of classical ballet, graphic rape, several murders, unconventional military sexual training and a serious amount of travelling. You might contemplate whether the film acts as a tale of female empowerment or as false manumission, replete with misogynistic tropes. Finally, you might contemplate whether the extent of grotesquery involved in Red Sparrow cancels the atmosphere of dark sexuality it so hard wishes to convey.