Saturday 3 March 2018

The Current Cinema - RED SPARROW gives some food for thought for spy fiction aficionados

Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, USA, 2018) is based on a novel by a former CIA agent. Manohla Dargis in the NY Times calls it ‘preposterously entertaining’. In making that judgement she makes no reference to frequent sightings of Jennifer Lawrence near naked or garbed in the skimpy underwear which she wears during the sex scenes.

What mostly struck me is how neat and ordered everything was. From Jeremy Irons crisp and tailored spymaster gold-braided uniforms to Joel Edgerton’s fashionable face growth and the little beanie he wears. Actually you wonder if Joel did his own costuming in the manner of Zbigniew Cybulski in Ashes and Diamonds who insisted on wearing dark glasses and created an image for the ages. It’s all meticulously designed. Even the grotty parts aren’t that grotty, but sanitised to an unnecessary degree. Of course it’s elaborately plotted so that the betrayals mount up but probably the audience can’t work it all out anyway. Loose ends. No problem.

But by the end, after 139 minutes, we’re all ready for what will apparently be a trilogy.

If I’m mean towards this standard Hollywood entertainment then I may be over-infected with the current reading, the world of the grotty downtrodden spys of London’s Slough House, Mick Herron’s series of novels about agents cast out of HQ because they fucked-up big time and are now reduced to twiddling their thumbs or running clandestine ops under the direction of one Jackson Lamb.

Lamb makes himself a spectacle – belching, farting, not bothering to do up his fly, putting whisky in front of a reformed alcoholic, appalling table manners, irritating people with his body odour – (“If this bench marks my coat I’m sending you the cleaning bill”. “You can get coats cleaned?” “Coats cleaned, teeth fixed, hair washed. I appreciate this is news to you”.) He’s the down and dirty spy, le Carre’s Leamas when he ran to seed as part of the deception that informs “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”.

And yes preposterous. A US Senator’s chief of staff sells national secrets for a paltry $250k which she takes in a bag in cash after she turns up drunk! You’re kidding me. And no bugs or cameras in too many of the rooms. Please! Hasn’t that ex-CIA agent watched Homeland or even Spooks.  What was he doing when he worked there? Manohla reports that the CIA liked the novel came out put a review on its website. A sample. “Tradecraft descriptions aside, how plausible is the book for the reader with guilty knowledge? On a scale from the deliberately low-key realism of Le Carré to the fantasies of Robert Ludlum, it’s definitely on the Le Carré end of the spectrum, with a few notable exceptions. Those interested in public perceptions of the intelligence business, particularly as it is practiced by CIA officers, should read this book.”

OK. Got that. Propaganda.

It must be a relief for Hollywood that the Russians can be the bad guys again. Charlotte Rampling gives us a nice speech about how it will fall to the old empire to exploit the chaos in the world and impose some discipline. There would be Hollywood execs chortling at this little dig at Trump's presidency.

....And with the Russkies back as villains, you can do your location shooting in Budapest, London, Vienna and Bratislava studios. Nice places to visit.

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