Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Douglas Hodge, Sakina Jaffrey
As Jennifer Lawrence has transitioned from just being an actress to being a fully fledged superstar her public persona, the irreverent, funny goofball, has come to the fore. Red Sparrow, in which she is reunited with director Francis Lawrence who helmed the final three films of the Hunger Games series, gives her the opportunity to return to those qualities which first grabbed the world’s attention in Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook: strength, defiance, determination.
“Every human being is a puzzle of need. Learn how to be the missing piece and they will give you anything.” This is the mantra of the Sparrows, a special program within the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, focused on psychological manipulation. Continue reading
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shepherd, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Dakin Matthews, Amy Ryan
The big guns have been rolled out for Cold War espionage thriller Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s contribution to this year’s Oscar hunting season. Directing his first film in three years, the Hollywood master has teamed up for the fourth time with star Tom Hanks on a screenplay from Matt Charman and the Coen brothers.
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War and the accompanying thermonuclear hysteria, the CIA capture a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), living in Brooklyn. With the eyes of the world watching, and the American justice system under the microscope, it is important that Abel is seen as getting a fair trial. So James Donovan (Tom Hanks), partner in a successful insurance law firm, is appointed by the state as Abel’s public defender. While aware that defending the most hated man in the country will likely make him the second most hated man in the country, Donovan believes it is his patriotic duty to do the job. Continue reading
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Groth, Luca Calvani, Christian Berkel, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant
Remakes and reboots are common place in Hollywood. Studios love them because they are largely safe. While an original idea is risky, a remake gives you instant name recognition and a pre-existing audience. At least that is the thinking. But Guy Ritchie’s latest film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is a remake of a television series that ran from 1964-1968, half a century ago, that carries zero cultural cache with the target demographic for this spy actioner, which begs the question: why?
As is to be expected, we go back to the beginning. This is an origin story, describing how U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, came about. We begin in East Berlin in 1963, where American CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) has been sent on an extraction mission to transport beautiful, young auto-mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) across the Iron Curtain. Between Solo and safety is Ukranian KGB operative Illya Kuriyakin (Armie Hammer) who is also after Teller. An exhilarating car chase ensues, one only slightly undermined by the stodgy communist bloc Trabants they are driving. Continue reading
Director: Dan Bradley
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Will Yun Lee
A remake of the 1984 Patrick Swayze movie, Red Dawn tells the story of a group of high schoolers who, under the guidance of a young marine recently returned from Iraq played by Chris Hemsworth, become guerrilla soldiers when their home town is overrun by a North Korean invading force. Taking on the mascot of their high school, the Wolverines become Spokane, Washington’s version of the Vietcong, terrorising the occupying forces with their superior knowledge of the local terrain, and giving hope to an imprisoned people.
If you want to enjoy Red Dawn it is important that you leave your brain at the door, because if you let yourself think about it even for a second the whole premise unravels. Whether it is little questions like how is it that the Wolverines seem to be able to move in and out of the town with such ease, or bigger ones like how can a well-drilled North Korean invading force be so easily and consistently out-skilled and out-strategised by a group of high schoolers after only a couple of weeks (the time periods are intentionally kept vague) of basic training from an early-career marine, the film just doesn’t stand up to logic. It’s pretty ludicrous stuff.
In the 1984 original, it was the Soviets who were invading, and despite the premise being the same, Cold War anxiety made the whole thing a bit more acceptable. This time around it is the North Koreans. I always find it a bit awkward when a non-historically based film speculates about a war between two actual countries. Most films of this kind will give the enemy a fictional name or leave them anonymous while subtly or unsubtly alluding to a real life country. But in this case the studio has obviously figured that they weren’t going to damage the film’s international box office potential by getting North Korea offside. Interestingly, the film had to be re-edited with certain scenes reshot, as the invading force was originally identified as Chinese. Obviously China was too big a potential market to alienate.
Directed by Dan Bradley, a stuntman, it heavily favours action over psychological insight. Only for the briefest of moments is attention given to the thought that a teenager might be psychologically conflicted by being required to take another person’s life. For Australian readers who will understand the reference, Red Dawn is Tomorrow When the War Began done American style. It’s the same concept but with a much higher ammunition and explosives budget.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean