RED SPARROW * (140 minutes) MA
The latest offering from the usually wonderful and daring Jennifer Lawrence is a dud Cold War thriller, a wall-to-wall bore that can’t justify its endless, sluggishly paced 140-minute running time.
Flaccidly directed by the usually stylish Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend; Constantine; Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Catching Fire), Lawrence plays an ex-ballerina with the Bolshoi who is recruited as a spy by her uncle and trained to use sex as a weapon of espionage.
Her mission is to finagle her way into the affections and trousers of a CIA spy (Joel Edgerton) to discover the name of a Russian mole. He, in turn, tries recruiting her.
The film is stuffed with thick layers of plot involving bluffs, double-crosses and various other tropes of intrigue designed to get you wondering who’s putting who on, but the film is simply too dull to hold your attention.
It also features some ghastly violence, including two gratuitously detailed torture scenes that really seem out of place. If only they’d been traded in for some good old fashioned action. Where are helicopters and car chases when you need them?
And get this. Though the film is set present day, there’s a curious sub-plot involving the acquisition of information – on floppy disks. Nobody explains why, but there they are in all their clunky, easy-to-corrupt glory. Really, floppy disks. Anybody who still has any uses them as coasters. Why they pop up here is the only real mystery in the film.
Lawrence puts on a convincing-enough Russian accent but her performance is stilted and unengaging. Why she didn’t use her Hunger Games cred to do more of an action turn is massively disappointing, especially given how Angelina Jolie in Salt and Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde had shown there was a market.
Lawrence had a great chance to register a new female action hero into the modern-day canon. What an opportunity missed.
WINCHESTER * (99 minutes) M
From Australia’s Speirig brothers Michael and Peter – who made Undead; Daybreakers; Predestination – comes a meandering, underwhelming attempt at a psychological horror story that takes place in an ever-expanding haunted house.
Set in 1906, Helen Mirren plays the owner of the hugely successful Winchester company, of which she holds a controlling interest and which produces the famous Winchester rifles of legend.
She’s not much of a capitalist, however, and is plagued by the guilt of the deaths these guns cause. She claims to be haunted by the spirits of those victims. She says she can trap these ghosts inside the rooms of her sprawling mansion, which she is forever expanding with an ever-present army of carpenters.
Understandably, the rest of the Winchester board think she’s nuts and so send a doctor (Jason Clarke) to make an assessment. Their hope is that he’ll agree that she’s off her rocker, sign the required medical papers and thus allow them to declare her batty and take over the company.
There’s a nice, slow-burn build up of tension as the house is explored and questions are asked, but once the spooks start getting serious the film defaults to the horror movie tropes we’re all a little too used to.
The film hasn’t exactly been embraced by critics – at the moment it holds a terrible 13% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes – but, to give it credit, it’s made about $30 million in the US against a puny production budget of about $3.5m. Not too shabby.