Richard Crouse: Jennifer Lawrence delivers one last blast of unadulterated star power in Red Sparrow
In her final film before going on hiatus from acting, the A-lister plays a former Russian prima ballerina who is recruited by an intelligence agency.
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Jennifer Lawrence says she’s taking the next year off from acting.
Instead of prancing in front of a camera she’ll join forces with Represent.Us to help get “young people engaged politically on a local level.” This weekend, before she leaves Hollywood in the rearview mirror, she gifts us with a movie Variety critic Owen Gleiberman says “shows you what true screen stardom is all about.”
In the spy thriller Red Sparrow she delivers one last blast of unadulterated star power in the form of former Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova. Based on a novel by former Central Intelligence Agency operative Jason Matthews, it tells Egorova’s story after an injury forces her to leave the stage.
Sent to the Sparrow School, a facility where intelligence agents are trained to seduce and manipulate, she becomes the institute’s best and deadliest student ever. “Your body belongs to the state,” says Charlotte Rampling as the school’s sadistic headmistress.
The new film is garnering raves for the star, but she’s used to that. Critics have lobbed praise at her since her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, a bleak 2010 Ozark Mountains drama about a young woman who tries to keep her family from falling apart. Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, enthused, “Her performance is more than acting, it’s a gathering storm.”
Winter’s Bone made her a critical darling but it was the Hunger Games movies that made her a superstar.
Based on the bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games films could have been run-of-the-mill young adult movies a la Divergent or The Maze Runner. The thing that elevates them is Lawrence’s character work.
Set in Panem, a dystopian world ruled by a fascistic leader played by Donald Sutherland, the movies chronicle a state-sanctioned battle to the death between 24 players, two from each of the country’s districts.
These televised games are equal parts Miss Universe, American Idol and Death Race. The story also follows two “tributes” from District 12: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), two reluctant warriors whose survival is at stake.
As fans of the books know, the focus of the story is the characters. They may be thrown into a wild situation. But knowing and caring about Katniss and Peeta is as important to this story’s success as the action scenes or dystopian premise.
Lawrence imbues Katniss with a rich inner life. You can see the machinations of this character churning behind her eyes. That depth played a big part in the series’ success. She took a role that could have been buried under layers of teen ennui or simple steely-eyed determination and gave Katniss real depth.
She starred as Katniss in four blockbuster Hunger Games outings, but took time to make smaller, riskier films that paid off with critical raves and an Oscar for best performance by an actress in a leading role for Silver Linings Playbook.
Now she’s taking a break from the big screen and from her now-legendary talk show appearances. Time calls her a “late night MVP” for her outspoken and often outrageous spots with the Jimmys — Kimmel, Fallon — but perhaps there was more than a kernel of truth in her recent sit-down with Stephen Colbert. Asked why she was taking a year off she replied, “Because I’m miserable.” She laughed off the remark but given the level of intensity of her performances perhaps it’s time for her to sit back and recharge her batteries. Her fans will be there in a year when she’s ready to come back.